AFTER a year in which we’ve all become reacquainted with single-use plastics due to Covid, recycling isn’t at the forefront of our minds.
Yet, as we mark Global Recycling Day today, it’s a timely reminder that our wasteful actions are damaging the planet more than any pandemic.
Here, MINDY O’BRIEN of environmental charity Voice Ireland explains why we cannot afford to avoid taking action and provides tips for more sustainable living.
For more, see voiceireland.org.
We need to change how we consume, looking at ways to enjoy the product without needless packaging
YOU may be wondering why it is necessary to recycle, or what needs to be recycled.
There seems to be quite a lot of confusion around this point so let’s get to the first issue of why it is important to recycle.
We have a finite amount of resources and it is essential that we repurpose that material as often as possible to reduce the stress that constant resource extraction has on our fragile world.
For example, an aluminium can is 100 per cent recyclable, saving 95 per cent of the energy that is required for making a can from virgin metal.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the damage that mining does to the surrounding local environment.
Now to the question of how and what to recycle. As we have just celebrated a very quiet St Patrick’s Day and may have some bottles, cans and other party packaging around, we need to know what can go into our recycling bin.
First rule of thumb, make sure that whatever you place into your recycling bin is clean (no food, drink, shampoo, etc.) and dry (no remaining liquid in the container — giving it a quick shake is enough after rinsing the item).
Recyclable items must also be loose (don’t place your recyclables into anything else, like a plastic or paper bag, cereal box or other box — the optical scanners at the material recycling plant must be able to ‘see’ the item).
You can find a list of what is allowed in your recycling bin at mywaste.ie.
Recycling your food and garden waste is also important, known as composting. Did you know that 64 per cent of our food waste is found in our rubbish or recycling bins?
It is important to put food and garden waste in your compost bin or your own composting pile so it can decompose and be used as fertiliser.
If organic waste goes to landfill, it rots and releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2.
We must also try to prevent the creation of the waste in the first place. According to our national waste statistics, on average, we each produce 321kg of waste each year — about the size of a baby elephant!
Of this waste, 11 per cent is plastic packaging and 32 per cent of the waste in the recycling bin shouldn’t be there.
Much of our waste is generated from single-use items, such as plastic packaging, disposable coffee cups and takeaway containers.
We throw away over two million disposable coffee cups each day. These single-use items all require the extraction of natural resources that could be better used for more long-lasting purposes.
We need to change how we consume, looking at ways to enjoy the product without needless packaging.
Here is where ‘reuse’ comes in. In terms of water, energy and resource use, reuse beats single-use every time.
In my perfect world, shoppers would be able to bring their own containers or borrow a reusable one when shopping or getting take away.
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This way, if we forget our container or cup, we can ‘borrow’ one by paying a deposit on the container, which we will recover once we return it.
The shop will collect these containers, wash them and then put them out for others to use. We need to make this mainstream and easy for the shopper to choose to reuse.
Our consumption model must change from our current throw-away society to one where we use our resources wisely, for our planet and our health.
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