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Monday 07 March 2005
The following information is kindly provided by Waste Watch UK.
Waste in households
Every year, around 28 million tonnes of household waste is produced in the UK. Although this waste would fill the Royal Albert Hall in just one hour, it represents only 5% of the total waste produced. It contains large quantities of organic waste which can cause pollution problems, as well as materials such as glass and plastics which do not easily break down.
Most effectively way to reduce waste is not to create so much in the first place. However, this is difficult as almost all purchases are packaged, and a great deal of what we buy is designed to be used once and then disposed of. Around 70% of our waste could be recycled or composted. The current recycling rate for the UK is only around 11%, with 82% being buried in landfill sites and 9% incinerated. Ultimately, the greatest advantage of recycling is that it’s raising awareness as first step towards changing the way we deal with the problem. The more people recycle, the more recycling plants will be built, and the impacts of transporting waste materials will decrease.
Recycling reduces the demand for raw materials, lessening the impact of extraction and transportation. It is estimated that for every tonne of waste thrown away, an extra 20 tonnes of waste is created at the point where the raw material is extracted. Substantial energy savings can be made by using waste materials rather than raw materials, ranging from a potential 22% energy saving for recycled glass to a potential 97% saving for recycled polythene.
Landfill and incineration
Disposal to landfill also involves high transportation costs as landfill sites are an increasingly long way away from large urban areas where most of the waste is produced. Modern landfill sites are constructed to high standards but remaining environmental concerns. Additionally, we are running out of landfill space unless quantities of waste are dramatically reduced.
Incinerators are expensive to construct and to run, and therefore require long term contracts with local councils to guarantee a steady stream of waste. This essentially encourages waste production. Individuals are far more likely to think about the waste they produce if they separate it for recycling, and more likely to reduce the amount they produce if they are aware of the quantities of waste being generated. Between 10% and 30% of waste incinerated ends up as bottom ash, which is the ash and non-combustible material left over and is disposed in landfill sites. Around 5% of waste incinerated ends up as fly ash. This is ash generated in the combustion process and contains toxic chemicals. Fly ash has to be sealed into containers and disposed of as hazardous waste. There is a continuing public debate concerning incinerators, specifically regarding dioxins which are toxic chemicals produced in the combustion process. These can accumulate in the food chain and cause possible problems to human health, and have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and learning difficulties in children.
Costs of recycling
In the UK there are fewer recycling and reprocessing plants, higher storage and transportation costs, and smaller markets for recycled products than in other EU countries. To make it cheaper and easier for households to recycle, there needs to be an increase in the availability and consumption of recycled products to stimulate a demand for recycled material. This process of supply and demand is called "closing the loop". There will be no demand for waste materials for recycling unless there is a demand for them to be turned into another product, and there are people buying that product. Recycled products today can be made to the same standards as products made from raw materials. Many products do not even state their recycled content as this might be considered a sign of inferiority. For instance, recycled paper is now available at similar standards to high quality virgin paper and will function perfectly in printers and photocopiers.
In addition, increases in environmental legislation will inevitably lead to an increase in reprocessing and recycling plants in the UK, making it easier and cheaper for local authorities, and consequently individuals, to recycle.
Significant proportions of household waste can be brought to local recycling banks and civic amenity sites. In kerbside collection schemes, special containers are left with each household alongside the normal bin bag or wheeled bin, for the householder to fill with clean, sorted materials for recycling, such as glass, aluminium and plastic.
How to start recycling?
Local councils are responsible for providing facilities for the recycling of household waste. They operate the recycling banks and civic amenity sites where different types of waste can be taken for recycling. Most local councils have facilities for recycling newspapers and magazines, aluminium cans, glass and textiles.
They are also responsible for setting up kerbside collection schemes and may provide home composting bins for householders to compost their organic waste. Around half of local councils already provide kerbside collections for some waste materials.
With the release of the Waste Strategy in May 2000, the government introduced legislative targets for local authorities. If a local authority currently recycles less than 5%, they will have to exceed 10% recycling by 2003. If a local authority recycles 5 - 15% then they must double their rate by 2003, and any remaining authorities must recycle or compost at least one third of their household waste.
What can we recycle?
Bottle banks are found in many local council areas and are divided into those accepting clear, green and brown glass. Blue glass can be put into the green bank, and clear glass with coloured coatings can be put into the clear bank as the coating will burn off. The labels on bottles and jars will be removed during the recycling process, however remove as many plastic or metal rings and tops as possible. Only recycle bottles and jars - never lightbulbs, sheet glass or Pyrex type dishes as these are made from a different type of glass.
Most local authorities have recycling banks for newspapers and magazines, as this is the most abundant type of paper in household waste. Make sure that you don't put other types of paper in, such as cardboard or junk mail, as this will contaminate the load and the reprocessors will not accept it. Some local authorities may have separate banks for these. Packaging such as milk and juice cartons cannot be recycled as paper as they have a plastic lining which would contaminate the process.
Aluminium and steel cans
Many local authorities have mixed can banks accepting both aluminium and steel cans, although some have aluminium only banks as uncontaminated aluminium has a higher value. Aluminium can be recognised by the fact that it does not stick to a magnet, has a very shiny silver base and is very light in weight. Steel cans are also called "tins" as they contain a very thin layer of tin. Try to crush drinks cans before recycling, either with a can crusher or by squashing them underfoot. Aerosol cans made from steel or aluminium can be recycled in Save-a-can banks (check the front of the banks for guidance), but they must be empty and should not be crushed.
Charities such as Oxfam and Scope run textiles banks for unwanted clothing, which are then sold in charity shops, given to the homeless or sent abroad. Even damaged or unwearable clothing can be converted into items such as wiping cloths, shredded for use as filling for items such as furniture or car insulation, or rewoven into new yarn or fabric. To deposit shoes, tie them together as they tend to go astray!
Plastic is a difficult material to recycle as there are many different types of plastic (often indicated by a number, or letters such as PP, PET or PVC). The variation in plastic means that different reprocessing techniques are required. The different types of plastic therefore need to be collected separately, or sorted after collection, as reprocessors will specify which type of plastic they will accept. Plastic in household waste is often food packaging and therefore too contaminated to be recycled effectively.
Plastic is a light, bulky part of household waste, and therefore it is difficult for councils to store and transport sufficient quantities of plastic to make recycling economically viable. Many councils have found it to be too expensive and do not have facilities for plastic at all, while others recycle only plastic bottles which are worth more money. If your council does recycle plastic, make sure that you are recycling the right type of plastic, and always remove the tops of plastic containers so that they can be crushed.
Organic household waste is food and garden waste. Organic waste is a problem if sent to landfill, because it is impossible to separate out from other waste once mingled, and will rot, producing methane, a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. The best use of organic waste is to either compost it through a centralised composting scheme run by your council, or to compost it at home. Find out if your council has facilities for taking garden waste for composting, or you may be able to separate kitchen waste for a kerbside collection scheme if one exists in your area. Alternatively, build or invest in a home composter for the garden, or try a worm bin for indoor use! Check to see if your council supplies reduced cost recycling bins.
Electrical and electronic equipment
There are very few facilities for recycling household electrical or electronic waste. British Telecom telephones can be returned and there is a scheme for recycling certain types of mobile phone. There are a number of schemes for repairing and recycling goods such as refrigerators and washing machines which can then be passed on to low income households. Call the Waste Watch Wasteline on 0870 243 0136 for details of schemes in your area. Check with your council to see if they have facilities for household appliances, electronic equipment, or CFC extraction for old refrigerators. You can arrange for the council to remove bulky household items for disposal.
There is currently one facility for collecting ordinary household batteries in the UK - in Lancashire. Batteries are varied and complex, come in different shapes and types, and are consequently very difficult to sort and recycle. The toxic materials have now been removed from ordinary batteries and they are safe to dispose of with your normal household waste. Rechargeable batteries, or nickel cadmium batteries, do still contain hazardous metals and should be returned to the manufacturer where possible. A few local authorities provide facilities for recycling these, as well as lead acid car batteries, which may also be returned to garages. If you use rechargeable batteries, look out for the new versions containing no mercury or cadmium.
A network of furniture projects exists across the UK consisting of small scale local projects who take unwanted household furniture and items, and pass it onto community groups, low income families and other groups in need. Contact your council to dispose of broken bulky household waste.
Household hazardous waste such as paint, solvents and garden chemicals comes under the jurisdiction of your local council. Take them to a civic amenity site if facilities exist, or contact your council. Some councils also provide facilities for de-gassing fridges and for recycling fluorescent tubes.
Packaging is often made up of a mixture of materials, such as 'tetra paks' which can be made up of paper, plastic and metal, making recycling difficult. There is a lack of facilities and technology for recycling mixed packaging, meaning that the materials are difficult to separate out without contamination.
Packaging is a very visible form of waste, making up around one third of the average household dustbin. Packaging is often necessary to protect the product, to prolong its lifespan and to provide essential information. However, over-packaging does occur, especially for marketing purposes. Basic foods such as bread and rice are rarely overpackaged, while convenience foods often have two or three layers of packaging. Try to avoid overpackaging where possible, and when choosing a product, pick the packaging material which is easiest for you to recycle locally.
Contact your local council for details of recycling facilities in your area, home composting initiatives, kerbside collection schemes, or any other issues regarding your household waste collection and disposal.
Waste Watch is the national organisation promoting action on waste reduction and recycling and is partly funded by DERFA, the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
96 Tooley Street
London SE1 2TH
Tel: 020 7089 2134
Fax: 020 7403 4802
Registered Charity No. 1005417
Tips for houselholds
Monday 28 February 2005
Effective waste management is a good way to improve environmental performance whilst saving money. Recent independent investigations have proven that many companies are not fully aware of the ecological or financial costs of waste, and that some are paying as much as five times more than necessary.
Therefore waste minimisation is a win-win situation, increasing company profit and benefiting the environment.
Through a combination of legislation and advancing technology, waste management in business is coming under control. The Environment Agency register and monitor businesses who carry or produce significant amounts of waste, to ensure procedures remain as green as possible.
Reducing waste is a step towards a healthier planet, and more competitive industry.