McDonald’s rubbish to power hospitals

October 16, 2007 at 12:17 pm

Who said McDonald’s was bad for us? Well, they might want to eat their words because the global fast food giants have recently decided to lead the way in waste recycling, using it to generate heat and electrical power for communities here in the UK.

11 McDonald’s restaurants in Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley in South Yorkshire are taking part in a scheme that will aim to drastically cut down on the 100 tonnes of waste sent to landfill from one single McDonald’s restaurant each year. One of the reasons for the current landfill option is because the waste isn’t always completely devoid of food residue. However, this new scheme plans to work with various environmental agencies to turn the old packaging into new energy.

Waste will leave the 11 restaurants and be taken to modern facilities where advanced technology will convert the rubbish, along with other waste from the area, into stored electricity and heat. This will then be used to power a number of local buildings and community facilities. The Lyceum Theatre, the Millennium Gardens, Weston Park Hospital, Park Hill flats, Ponds Forge International Sports Centre and Sheffield City Hall are a few of the places that old rubbish from French Fries and Quarter Pounders will provide power for.

McDonald’s have been in the public spot-light for some time thanks to societies becoming increasingly more health conscious than ever before. The introduction of a more balanced and healthy menu sits alongside this venture as representing a shift in the ethics behind the company and of fast food chains overall.

The president chief of McDonald’s in the UK, Steve Easterbrook, said, “At the moment, it is difficult for companies like McDonald’s to recycle waste. Many recycling contractors refuse to take our waste because we cannot remove food from it completely. As a result, we have to send it landfill. This trial is an exciting opportunity to look at an alternative method of disposal with real benefits for the environmental and local community.”

In July 2007, McDonald’s announced plans to run their UK delivery fleet of lorries and trucks on biodiesel predominantly made from their own recycled cooking oils. The six million litres of regular diesel used by the fleet plans to be a thing of the past.

Furthermore, McDonald’s have also rolled out new environmentally friendly technologies and techniques within their restaurants. These include solar panels, wind power, recycling schemes for the large quantity of cardboard they use and also energy efficient lighting on their premises.

David Pratt, of the Carbon Trust, is working with McDonald’s on this new project and says, “We welcome the steps that McDonald’s are taking to reduce their emission as part of UK business efforts to fight climate change.”

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Recycling – not all its cracked up to be?

October 9, 2007 at 11:20 am

With recycling such a buzz word in today’s society, you’d be hard pressed to find many studies questioning its benefits. However, a study has now been collated showing what the average UK household bin contains. The results were surprising – while almost half of it is naturally bio-degradable, 53% of our rubbish is rather more difficult for the environment to deal with. Indeed, there are certain items where the evidence in favour of recycling is overwhelming, but others where the scientific justification is lacking.

Some arguments against recycling have concentrated on the naivety of household recycling and our misconception that what we do is fundamental to reducing resource depletion. Recent statistics have shown that UK household metal recycling accounts for just 2% of the total ferrous scrap recycled in the UK. Furthermore, even if we managed to increase our household recycling by 50%, the total amount of waste going to landfill would only be reduced by 5%.

Renewable Resources?

What we should think about is the end result of recycling, namely reducing the output of harmful chemicals and resource depletion. Paper and glass are ultimately sourced from renewable resources, trees and sand. With sand being the most dominant element on the earth’s surface, worrying about it running out is not a grave concern.

There is also scientific evidence now that paper is likely to degrade within 2-5 months when sent to landfill; provided that there’s enough dirt, oxygen and bacteria to work their magic. This leaves us with the central question, are the environmental benefits of recycling better than producing new goods?

Aluminium and Steel

This has been one of the areas where the majority of research has been concentrated and the benefits of recycling are very evident. Metals can be recycled without losing any of their properties and the environmental benefits are vast. For example by recycling a tonne of steel the following are achieved:

  • Reduction in water pollution by 76%
  • The saving of 1.5 tonnes of iron ore and 0.5 tonnes of coal
  • 75% reduction in the energy needed to make steel relative to virgin material
  • 1.28 tonnes of solid waste reduction
  • Reduced air emissions by 86%

Aluminium recycling produces similar benefits, needing only 5% of the energy that would be consumed in sourcing aluminium from the raw material. It also saves around 4 tonnes of chemical products and 1,400 kWH per tonne produced.

Cost/ Benefit Analysis

Unfortunately, the available evidence on this front is rather limited. However,
Transwatch has produced a significant study on the greenhouse gas emissions of cars. For example, if we were all to drive rubbish individually to recycling we would produce 860 grams of carbon, 1.18 grams of Carbon Monoxide (CO) 13.2grams of Nitrous Oxide (NOx) and 0.072 grams of Sulphur Dioxide per kilogram of fuel we used – all incredibly harmful to the ozone layer. In contrast, a single lorry will carry over 20 times the amount to be recycled, but only produce on average twice the amount of CO and NOx as well as maintain levels of carbon and sulphur oxide production. In conclusion then, rather than all trying to be altruists, we’d be much better off leaving it for the rubbish men.

This same logic needs to be applied to the harmful chemicals produced by factories specializing in recycling. Thankfully, this analysis has heralded positive results with the Institute of Science in Society estimating that 1.8 tonnes of oil are saved and sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide production reduced by two-thirds and half respectively when recycling polythene.

So What should we do?

Scientifically, many of the benefits of recycling are self-evident. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg and sacrifice is going to prove important if we really want to do something positive. This analysis only touches on the issues involved but hopefully provides some food for thought. Other things that we should all consider:

  • Buy a kettle that keeps your water boiling at all times – this saves massive amounts of energy.
  • Buy products manufactured in countries using renewable resources rather than those intent on burning fossil fuels.
  • Use energy saving light bulbs, old style light bulbs waste 90% of the energy they produce as heat.

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Are free newspapers costing the earth?

October 5, 2007 at 4:02 am

The hugely successful free newspaper Metro has announced this month that it will be distributing a further 250,000 copies of its paper each day. The paper already circulates at a figure around 1.3 million, which puts it as the fourth largest daily newspaper in the UK, larger than the Daily Telegraph.

Metro, which is part of the same media group as the Daily Mail, was launched in 1999 in London but has since spread its distribution to many other UK cities and, more recently, to Dublin. Having proven a huge success, being read by thousands of commuters every day and earning millions of pounds in advertising, a war broke out in August 2006 between two new free newspapers who wanted to dominate the evening commute slot in the same way.

London Lite newspaper is one of these two and was originally a free spin-off of The Evening Standard, but in August 2006, to counter News International’s thelondonpaper, it was given its own mantle and run alongside the Standard. thelondonpaper is part of the same company as The Sun and The Times, and has the infamous Rupert Murdoch at its helm.

The big question though is for all the millions of sheets of newspaper being produced for this new-found readership, how much is being recycled?

In August 2007, the two corporations agreed with Westminster Council’s requests to fund a further 64 recycling bins around central London or face a ban on selling their papers. However, in one year, the new papers have provided the council with an extra 1000 tonnes of waste.

The two corporations will also be responsible for the recycling of the new bins’ contents, as well as providing their own litter picking services on the streets and around the transport networks. Councillor Alan Brady said: “This has been a complex matter, and there are some details we need to finalise, but I look forward to all parties working together to ensure Westminster’s streets are kept clean and that as much waste newspaper as possible is recycled.”
Over £111,000 was added to the Westminster tax-payer last year to help cope with the vast increase of litter from newspapers.

The Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act was brought in when discussing the issue, but it isn’t a law imposing act so Metro and The Evening Standard decided not to sign up to the agreement. However, this month, Metro have teamed up with WRAP to offer businesses in central London free recycling bins and information packs for their offices.

Nevertheless, such measures are not enough in themselves. A government funded organisation called Newsprint and Newspaper Industry Environmental Action Group (NNIEAG) was launched in 2006 with the objective of “providing advice on how to improve recycling rates and in particular, from a practical point of view, how to recycle newspapers.” With this in mind, here are a few tips for reusing your newspapers at home:

  • Scrunch them up and use in the compost bin to soak up liquid
  • Compress into logs for burning.
  • Line trenches when growing runner beans
  • Use newspaper to clean windows and stainless steel sinks
  • Use as additional insulation

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Talent from Trash

October 2, 2007 at 11:03 am

A new initiative, entitled Talent from Trash, hopes to give young people a sporting chance as well as an incentive to recycle. The scheme, which has financial support from Coca-Cola, asks youngsters to make a pledge to recycle more – the reward is cash assistance for youth development programmes at their local Football League Club. Thirteen clubs are participating in the scheme – you can check the site to see if you live near one of them.

Players, family and friends – in fact, anyone – can log on to the Talent from Trash website to make a pledge. This involves filling in your name and email address and promising to “recycle more aluminium, steel, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard products to help my Club raise money for youth development”. The promotion is running for just under three months – from 5th September to 28th November 2007.

The amount of money which can be raised for each club is capped at £18,000 – a pretty generous sum which should provide a welcome boost for football youth development. Everyone who pledges will also be entered in to a free prize draw, with one entry for each pledge. The prize is an extra £10,000 for the club and a personal reward of £5,000 – yet more incentive to crush some cans in the name of football!

Coca-Cola hopes that the initiative will capture youngsters’ imagination, and that the educational element of the website will encourage junior footballers and their families to make recycling a long-term goal. This section of the site provides tips on how and where to recycle.

Coca-Cola sees recycling as a key element of its environmental responsibility charter. The majority of Coca-Cola’s cans, bottles and cardboard packaging can be recycled, and the company is committed to a comprehensive recycling programme. However, the multinational has previously been criticised for failing to live up to its environmental promises. In 1999, the US organisation, Grassroots Recycling Network, claimed that the company has spent millions of dollars blocking legislation which would make it incumbent upon manufacturers to recycle beverage containers. And more recently, Coke’s green credentials have taken a knock with evidence that it has exacerbated fresh-water scarcity in some areas of operation. As such, this move is an attempt to salvage their reputation and improve their credentials as a green company.

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