Reduce, reuse and then recycle – in that order

January 21, 2013 at 11:23 am

The current state of capitalism in which we find ourselves means a society addicted to the new. Obtaining the new is equal to discarding the old; this spells a constant and consistent collateral creation of waste. Recycling alone is not the answer, in fact it is the last thing that we should be doing. Before we get to that point we need first to reduce our consumption to avoid waste and then see if there is a way we can use the item again for a different purpose or switch to a reusable version. That is why the three R’s are structured as they are – not as separate or even complementary concepts, but as a sequential procedure designed to minimise our current way of life’s impact on the earth.

Reduce first; this is the most important of all. Start with the low hanging fruit, waste intensive consumer items, for which there are environment-healthy alternatives, for instance purchase a refillable water bottle and carry it out and about with you, use cloth items instead of paper for nappies, napkins and plates. Exercise your consumer purchasing power and avoid anything you deem to have too much packaging. 38% of council waste is estimated to be packaging alone.

Reuse next; it’s time to get creative so have some fun. Old jam jars and bottles make excellent containers. Take the time to donate your old clothes, books and DVDs to charity, or offer them up for collection on one of the myriad of swap-shop websites such as Freecycle. Lastly, if you have a garden, think about composting your food waste. If it goes into landfill, food waste creates hazardous, unusable land due to the build up of methane. If it goes onto your garden it creates a rich environment for plants and micro-organisms to thrive. What could be a simpler choice than that?

Finally recycle, and do it correctly. Separate out your glass and take it to the bottle bank, the same with plastics. With the latter make sure that the plastic is indeed recyclable as not all types are and mistakes can create unusable waste. Too much council recycling ends up in landfill due to this and other types of contamination.

In terms of environmental impact, society is still playing catch-up with itself, and it looks to be that way for a long time yet. So in the meantime it’s the responsibility of each of us to do our bit and this means the three R’s, in the right order.

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Up to 20% of household recycling contaminated

January 7, 2013 at 11:28 am

Figures released by DEFRA (The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) estimate that up to 20% of household recycling is contaminated and ends up in Landfill. The amount of rubbish being rejected has risen dramatically in the last five year period. The non-recyclable items at fault included textiles, the wrong types of plastic, organic matter, and actual recyclable materials that are soiled beyond use.

All of this seems to point to a lack of education, rather than will on the behalf of citizens. It’s up to councils to educate constituents says the Government but far from doing so, they seem to be adding to the problem by insisting on mixed recyclables collected in a single bag. While this may bring down the cost of collection since it passes those costs on to the re-processing sector, who are forced to re-route sub-standard material, it’s not only the UK industry which suffers; China is also forced to dump huge quantities of UK waste in landfill rather than recycle it for profit.

The solution may lie in education and a variety of bins at the kerbside for separate items. There are calls from various sectors now to improve not just the quantity of domestic recycling but the quality as well. Those involved range from Government ministers to Friends of the Earth, because we may just be running out of room for more unusable wasteland. It’s not just that food waste creates potentially explosive levels of methane in landfill sites, it’s that proper recycling conserves valuable natural resources such as metals extracted by mining.

While our councils get their act together perhaps it’s time for us to look more carefully at what we are recycling; after all this is an area where every little bit counts.

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