Blue bins, grey bins, black bins, paper but not shiny paper, glass but not pyrex, clean but not too clean—recycling can get confusing sometimes and Eco Savvy hears about it!
Eco Savvy invited an expert in the industry to come and tell us about the process behind the scenes, principles and ideals, input and output, circular process and to importantly answer the many questions that Arran residents have regarding recycling. From B&B owners trying to educate their flow of guests accustomed to different recycling regulations, (many times to no avail), to members of households simply wanting to do the right thing but not knowing how, the workshop made for lively discussion which left attendees with new knowledge and better equipped to deal with recycling in the future.
This write-up will give brief insight into a few of the concepts discussed, and provide 5 tips, easy to implement to reduce your own amount of waste. Before that though, it is important to mention that a booklet that outlines the dos and don’ts of recycling for Arran does exist called “Your Household Waste & Recycling Guide”, currently stocked in the Eco Savvy shop in Whiting Bay, and the Council Offices in Lamlash.
The workshop started out by outlining the timeline of the recycling concept and industry. From the Industrial Revolution to the Landfill tax introduced to the UK in 1996 that transformed the industry, we have come a long way. The workshop saw many concerns being raised about our waste not being recycled properly and ending up in landfill, the quality of landfill management, and its general bad reputation. Unfortunately our guest speaker was not a landfill expert, we’ll have to organise that for another day, however he did provide insight into the astute landfill management in many areas of the UK.
The UK is experiencing another upset to the industry with the China’s recent waste clamp-down which has further provoked revelations and suspicions over what actually happens once we’ve sorted our rubbish and put it in the right bin. It is obvious that one of the most efficient and economical (albeit controversial) ways for the UK to recycle plastic is to sell it, often to emerging markets. This approach to recycling has economies of scale and the transport can be practically free, seeing containers that came to UK full of clothes and electronics go back to China with waste materials to be reused. Furthermore, those who are prepared to buy waste are likely to make good use of it. However if these markets are not prepared to buy or take our waste due to the volatility of cost/supply/demand in the industry, it boils down to us as consumers buying less to better our planet. The waste hierarchy below, gives example to this:
More information can be found on this at Gov.uk’s waste hierarchy guidance: https://goo.gl/HTpDo3
The workshop saw the concept of the manufacturers seeing products as a resource discussed. For example, recycling aluminium requires 95% less energy that making it from scratch; the figure is 70% for plastics and 40% for paper (The Economist, 2011). With these figures present, the concept of manufacturers taking back the materials they use for their products does not seem so outlandish.
The example of mobile phone manufacturers was also discussed. The Apples and Samsungs of the world are quite dedicated to provide their consumers with mobile phone upgrades, but less emphasis is on taking back old phones, sometimes, this even costs the consumer. Does the responsibility lie with them? Do all stakeholders need to stop being so profit driven and take responsibility for our planet, even though profit margins or personal finances may take a hit? There are many arguments that come into play. However we should not underestimate our power as consumers to drive a new norm. Perhaps our mindset needs to shift from needing the snazziest and brightest new thing and in doing so we will push manufacturers to focus on better quality, sustainable products as opposed an item of similar function but new, new, new. See a case study on the Ellen Macarthur Foundation website that shows how successful this concept can be in the mobile phone industry: https://goo.gl/soziU8
Adding on to many ideas, the idea of changing contract delivery was discussed. For example the idea instead of a contract with a public authority to provide a certain amount of lightbulbs per year, a lightbulb manufacturer such as Phillips, for example, has a contract with a public authority to provide light for 10 years. This would mean that companies would be responsible for the repair of items that do not last and would simultaneously upgrade the quality. Instead of consumers driving better quality it would be the manufacturers seeking to lengthen the lifespan of items and being held accountable. There was many at the workshop that thought this model could be a potential solution to reducing waste but also highlighted the importance of policy makers and contract negotiators being sufficiently informed to not take advantage of the concept.
There could be many more paragraphs written about concepts and discussion that came forward in the workshop but the emerging themes and what participants wanted to see change was:
- A National recycling Scheme
- Natural resources
- Sealife protection scheme
- Equal pattern of consumption
- Sustainable processes
- A global approach to recycling
- A system that relies more on self-interest than virtue (ie; a reward scheme)
To add on to this, here are 5 simple tips to reduce your own carbon footprint and waste:
- Buy a refillable water bottle and reduce plastic waste. We now have a healthy list of businesses across the island involved in the Arran Fills Water Bottle Scheme that will see outlets across the island, filling your reusable bottle for free. We hope to encourage this especially over summer, where we see an influx of visitors to the island that may not be as conscientious as we that live here.
- Stop unwanted Mail. You can do so by contacting the mailing preferences service or the Royal Mail customer services.
- Do it right or it can cost.
The workshop was eye-opening in terms of identifying the colossal cost if mistakes in recycling are made. For example, putting a pyrex pot in with glass recycling can cause thousands of tonnes of glass to go to waste. This is due pyrex being treated in the manufacturing process to withstand high temperatures. If you need more information about recycling on Arran get the guide from the Eco Savvy Shop or the NAC Council Offices in Lamlash.
- Make a meal plan.
Recent research from WRAP (2017) estimates annual food waste arisings within UK households, hospitality and food service, food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors at around 10 million tonnes, 60% of which could have been avoided. This has a value of over £17 billion a year, and is associated with around 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Around 85% (by weight) of the avoidable food waste arises in households and food manufacture, although waste arising in one part of the supply chain is certainly influenced by other parts of the chain.
The food standards agency provides some more insight into the problem: https://goo.gl/ZKoJke
Pairing well with food planning, one simple rule: only buy what you know you will eat is important. Furthermore, with no structure or food plan, it is likely that you will buy last minute ready meals, mostly coming in unrecyclable materials, or takaways presenting the same problem.
Once you buy everything you need, it is important to store it correctly in reusable containers, extending the life of your food and keeping it as fresh as possible. Love Food Hate Waste has some excellent tips that could be implemented: https://goo.gl/2sJjZp
- Learn to Repair, Reuse and Upcycle
This one is important to apply to all areas of consumption. Fabrics and textiles are important examples of this. The value in reparing an old pair of jeans instead of sending them to landfill should not be underestimated. Just 1kg of clothing can save a massive 160kg in CO2e. This figure is taking into account only the breakdown process in landfill whereby fabric emits as significant amount of CO2, not even considering the carbon footprint in the manufacturing and transporting of the items.
Part of Eco Savvy’s current Climate Challenge funded project is to encourage the repair, reuse and upcycling of items and we teach this through the many workshops delivered across the island almost on a weekly basis. Through teaching these skills, we have managed to reduce 26.86 tonnes of CO2e and just in this last quarter have delivered a total of 24 skills sharing workshop. Therefore it is important to repair, and if it is unrepairable, find another use for it or upcycle it.
There are so many factors involved in recycling and Eco savvy is faced with the complications of waste reduction every day. It is important to remember that the small things you do in your household such as recycling (and doing it right-as painstaking as it might be) do make a big difference and implementing better practices now will hopefully become the norm for future generations, contributing significantly to the protection of our planet.