Quality not quantity is key to sustainable

June 14, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Recycling is on the increase in the UK. The Government target – to recycle or compost at least 33% of household waste by 2015 – seems achievable, and more of us are participating in domestic recycling than ever before. Yet, although the volume of household rubbish which we separate from mainstream waste for recycling is up, there is growing concern that quality is down.

What does this mean? Well, many local authorities have encouraged residents to recycle by making it easy – supplying one box or bag, into which a mixture of recyclables can be placed. This method, known as co-mingled or single-stream collection, can lead to contamination of the supply chain. Concern is such that the campaign group PaperChain has withdrawn support from the imminent 2007 Recycle Now Week. PaperChain fears that Recycle Now has lost sight of the evolving issues facing UK recycling, and claims that “the message on maintaining quality throughout the collection process has never been actively or effectively promoted to the public.”

Single stream collections are easier for householders, but segregating recyclables reduces the risk of contamination, especially for paper and cardboard. PaperChain says that “although material recovery facilities (MRFs) are able to segregate the material streams to a reasonable quality when they are running well, such facilities invariably end up generating recovered materials that are not up to the standards required for reprocessing without further sorting and cleaning.”

Up to 25% of material collected by householders for recycling ends up in landfill sites because of high levels of contamination. This is the claim made by Cylch, the Wales Community recycling Network. There is no blueprint for recycling in the UK, it is up to individual local authorities to determine collection methods, and a lack of investment in modern recycling facilities hampers progress. Mal Williams, CEO of Cylch, believes hundreds of millions of pounds of resources are being lost each year.

PaperChain additionally argues that campaign groups should now be encouraging the public sector to focus on quality and sustainability, not simply on generating greater volumes of recyclables. The organisation is greatly concerned about the long term sustainability of recycling in the UK if nothing is done to address these quality control issues. Recycle Now, meanwhile, has responded by saying: “It is not practical for Recycle Now Week to deliver detailed material quality messages to householders, as collection systems vary between local authorities.” So, who is at fault?

According to Williams, sending recyclables to landfill because of contamination is not a new problem. He blames a lack of investment in better facilities, and Whitehall, for the situation. “The Government can be blamed for not taking a strong leadership role,” he said. DEFRA’s Waste Strategy for England 2007 emphasises that “every local authority will have a role to play in increasing diversion of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) from landfill in order to meet the requirements of the EC Landfill Directive.” It seems local authorities are under pressure to recycle and to divert waste from landfill. Clearly, as PaperChain are keen to stress, workable and sustainable recycling schemes need to be at the heart of their policy if these two targets are to be met.

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Composting with worms

June 5, 2007 at 10:23 am

Worm composting or ‘vermicomposting’, to give it its proper name, is the ideal solution to smelly bins which are increasingly being emptied by councils only once a fortnight. It is a process whereby red earthworms consume organic waste and produce good quality compost for use in the garden. It can be done indoors or outdoors, year round, is odour-free and does not take up a lot of room.

Sites such as Wiggly Wigglers sell everything you need to set up your system, including the worms and also provide useful information on the process. The easiest to use is the Can-O-Worms and the Worm Factory as they are “tray systems” which allow for easy access to the compost and are small enough to house easily. If you have the room, the larger Waste Juggler has a handle and wheels and holds up to 90 litres of compost.

If you do not want the financial outlay of around £60 for a commercial system, you can make your own from an old wooden drawer, a plastic basin or metal container, so long as it is not more than 12 to 18 inches deep. You will need a series of small holes in the bottom for air and drainage and a lid to keep it dark for the worms and to keep unwanted visitors away if it is outdoors. For the best possible ventilation, put it up on bricks and put a tray underneath to catch any liquid. Worms thrive best in temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so avoid extremes. The worms need a six inch layer of bedding and the best material is shredded newspaper, computer paper or cardboard. It should be moistened but not soaking wet.

The worms will process fruit and vegetable peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds, stale bread, pet hair and vacuum cleaner dust, crushed egg shells and general food scraps. It is best to avoid meat and bones, fish, dairy products, rice, pasta and onions. The food should be added in two inch layers leaving a section clear for the worms to move to if they want. It is also possible to bury the food under the bedding and this has the advantage of keeping it out of the way of flies. Wait until the worms have finished processing one lot of food before adding more.

After three to six months the compost will be ready to be harvested. You can move all the contents of the worm box over to one side, and place fresh bedding and food in the empty space. After all the worms have moved to their new home the compost can be harvested from the other side. Another option is to put all the contents of the worm box on to a plastic sheet in the sun and arrange it into several piles. The worms will automatically crawl away from the light into the centre of the piles and you can harvest the compost from the outside of each pile. The compost from the wormery is more concentrated than normal compost, so a little go a long way.

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The argument for real nappies

June 4, 2007 at 3:22 am

For many years, no-one has thought twice about using disposable nappies for their babies. Struggling to fold a terry square into some weird and wonderful shape and coping with outsized safety pins was just too much like hard work. Sadly no-one gave a thought to where all these disposable nappies ended up and the damage they were causing to the environment. Now of course, we are more enlightened and with landfill space fast running out we are having to change the way we think about nappies. Eight million disposables a day are thrown away and by the time your child is two and a half you will have used around 6,500 nappies. It is not known how long it will take for the plastic to decompose but it could be hundreds of years.

The alternative is to use real nappies, made from soft breathable fabric (often cotton and sometimes organic) which come in different styles, sizes and even colours and are fastened with poppers or Velcro. Not only do real nappies mean savings in landfill but they also reduce the amount of energy used to produce disposables and all their packaging in the first place. If you don’t want the hassle of washing and drying nappies, there are plenty of special laundry services which will take your dirty nappies away and deliver a fresh supply.

It is certainly in the interests of local authorities to encourage parents to use real nappies; Nottinghamshire Council estimates the cost of sending disposables to landfill sites to be over a million pounds a year. For this reason many councils provide a free sample pack of real nappies or a free trial of a laundry service and some even offer cash incentives. According to the Women’s Environmental Network parents could save up to five hundred pounds by using real nappies and even more if the nappies are reused for subsequent children.

To reduce the environmental impact even more, it is suggested that rather than soaking the nappies in chemicals they should be stored dry in a bucket with a lid until they are washed, you should use a 60 degree wash for the nappies (and 40 degrees for the waterproof wraps) rather than using a maximum temperature wash, eco-friendly washing powder should be used and they should be dried outdoors or on an airer rather than in the tumble drier.

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The Big Recycle transforms into Recycle Now Week

June 2, 2007 at 12:02 pm

Recycle Now Week, a major annual campaign encouraging recycling across the UK, runs from 2nd – 8th June 2007. Formally “The Big Recycle”, the initiative is organised and funded by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) in partnership with materials recycling organisations British Glass, Corus, Novelis and Recoup.

This year’s theme is transformation, with householders being urged to transform behaviour by making a long-term commitment to recycling and transform households, schools, offices and streets into recycling hot-spots. The public is also being encouraged to discover how waste can be transformed into a range of useful and beautiful objects, from fashion to furniture.

TV star Denise Van Outen is backing the 2007 campaign, putting the glamour into green-living by spreading the message that recycling has never been more in vogue. She teamed up with ethical fashion designer Gary Harvey to launch the week by modelling a series of recycled outfits. The collection includes a “technicolour dream dress” made from recycled packaging and a ball gown made from second-hand jeans.

Road-shows, workshops and competitions will take place up and down the country to mark the event. Go to the Recycle Now website to find out what’s on near you.

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