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Recycling – we all do it now don’t we? From our schools all the way up to government level, for years we’ve been hearing about the benefits of recycling. Most of us have access to green bins in our homes now, shopping centres and public places usually provide bins with special sections for recycling material. So it’s all good right?
The answer is yes…and no. Research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that 53% of our waste still goes to landfill. Basically we end up putting half of all our waste on a big smelly heap to fester and emit noxious gases indefinitely. There are 15 of these dumps currently mouldering in various sites across the country. What’s more, according to the current government we’re running out of landfill sites and it’s not easy to find available new sites. (Well, do you want a giant rubbish tip situated in your area?)
But it’s not all bad news. The same EPA research tells us that in the Republic of Ireland we recycle at least 40% of our municipal waste. That’s on a par with the EU average and represents approximately a 20-30% increase in Ireland over the previous ten years. Well done us, right? Yes! But … we can do better – much better! There are two little things you can do immediately that will make a big difference to those figures. Let’s tackle these first.
So, What Do I Recycle?
It’s sometimes hard to know what goes where and if in doubt we tend to throw it in the black bin. This list should give you more confidence to know what goes where.
IN THE (GREEN) BIN
- Newspapers, magazines, office paper, junk mail, brochures
- Food boxes, bags and paper wrapping, egg boxes
- Milk cartons, paper yoghurt cartons
- Pizza boxes (only if they are not greasy, break up if necessary and only recycle clean parts)
- Empty toilet roll holders
- Aluminium drinks cans (soft drinks, beer cans)
- Tinfoil if it’s clean
- Food and pet food tins/cans
- Biscuit tins
- Beer bottle and jam jar lids
Plastic bottles (PET1)
- Water and soft drinks bottles including lids
- Mouthwash bottles
- Ketchup and other sauce bottles
Plastic bottles (HDPE2)
- Milk and juice bottles
- Cosmetic and shampoo bottles (rinse thoroughly beforehand)
- Household cleaning bottles
Plastic bottles (PP)
- Yoghurt pots, fruit containers
- Any rigid food packaging (except black)
- Liquid soap containers
This one sounds dangerous – so what does it mean? At its most basic contamination means that if your good recyclable materials touch off, or are in some way affected by non-recyclable liquids, oils, ashes etc, they can’t be recycled. At the moment approximately 30% of our green bin materials CANNOT be recycled due to contamination. This is huge and it’s easy to miss the fact that this is a big problem. In my experience bin companies aren’t particularly good about explaining it to their service users either. But these tips will help you sidestep the problem.
- Put in dirty nappies.
- Put in food waste – this includes making sure you RINSE ALL YOUR FOOD CARTONS if necessary before putting in the green bin. Milk cartons are a big one here – rinse them!
- Put in garden waste
- Put in electrical wires
- Put in oily materials
- Put in ashes
- Put in half empty food and drink containers
- Put in shoes, sheets or clothes
- Put in electrical items including batteries
- Put in plastic films including cling film. (In fact stop using cling film altogether! It’s impossible to recycle and is so easily replaced by other techniques.)
So they’re the basics. But let’s focus on some other issues that impede recycling in Ireland. One of the biggest outstanding challenges remains the fact that not everyone in Ireland has access to a domestic recycling bin. Many large-scale apartment blocks across the country have no recycling facilities. Unfortunately at present, there seems to be no policy at national level to deal with this issue. A recent statement in the media by the Minister concerned claims that it is a complex problem; “there is an issue in relation to apartment blocks. I don’t have a simple solution in relation to that. I am open to suggestions in relation to how we deal with that specific problem.” Frankly, it’s not clear why this is such a big deal for the Minister and his Department, however, we’ll just have to accept that it remains a problem for the time being.
So if this is a difficulty that affects you, is there anything you can do while it is (hopefully) being addressed? Yes, and it will test your commitment as a concerned and responsible citizen! You may not have heard of them but there are many centres dotted across the country called Civic Amenity Sites. These sites accept recyclable waste from the small scale up to larger items such as white goods and building waste. There is a charge for depositing the big stuff, but for waste of the type that goes into a domestic green bin (as detailed above), you can drop it off for free. So in the same way that you drive your bottles to the bottle bank, you can bring your recyclable waste to the CA Sites. You can locate your nearest centre by going to www.repak.ie. There’s no doubt it will mean forming a new habit but think of all your valuable recyclable rubbish sitting in a stinking landfill and just do it!
Finally, let’s focus on a challenge that can best even the greenest of us. They might seem innocuous, they certainly aren’t bothering us, but at the end of the day they’re an environmental disaster. They’re take-away coffee cups. On average a take-away coffee cup is useful to us for a maximum of ten minutes, then we throw it in the recycling bin and it’s gone. But that’s where we’ve been going badly wrong.
Technically, single use take-away coffee cups are indeed recyclable. But because they are a special fuse of polyethylene and paper, only specialist recycling plants can process them, and there are none of them in Ireland and only two in the entire United Kingdom. So that means that every take away coffee cup you have ever used, is sitting on landfill right now. Thankfully there is a very simple solution to get around this epic recycling fail. Carry your own reusable coffee cup and ask your café of choice to fill it. There are lots of options out there to purchase, from bamboo to glass and all of them are better than using a take-away disposable cup. Easy.
So that’s it, recycling 101 done. It may seem intimidating at first but following these very small steps will have a massive impact preventing our waste ending up in landfill, and let’s face it, once you know what to do – it’s pretty basic!