Recycling and General Waste
A large part of our waste management practices, particularly in the home, revolves around recycling. This varies across different parts of the UK and even different councils, depending largely on what resources they have available for handling waste. We are all now used to having various bins to collect plastic, glass, paper and card and many of us with the space give our garden waste to be turned into compost or used in biomass production.
Our councils are actually given incentives to recycle more, by the EU but also from Government here in the UK. Other incentives come from levies on practices such as sending waste to landfill that make it more expensive to use this method of disposal. Organisations such as the Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) work with businesses and communities to find ways to reduce waste and become more sustainable.
A large part of the recycling we do is carried out in homes across the UK where we have all engaged with the sustainability agenda. By 2014 we were recycling some 44.9% of our household waste and the target is to increase this to 50% by the end of the decade. We have reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill to just 26% of the baseline value set in 1995 – we currently send just 9.2 million tonnes there. This is good news as landfill sites have been notoriously difficult to manage, especially with the amount of waste we produce.
It’s not just about us recycling in the home but businesses are producing better eco-friendly packaging that can be more easily recycled. Making the right choices while in a store can make all the difference to the amount you waste and recycle.
Businesses, whatever their size, have an obligation to recycle and re-use responsibly. That means they have to have a clear strategy in place for disposing of waste, using licenced contractors and keeping a clearly defined audit trail of how they deal with that waste. According to Defra, commercial and industrial waste is being reduced as we take on more sustainable business practices and over 50% of it is now recycled.
In the UK we focus on four main materials when it comes to recycling. These are:
Glass: the good thing about glass is that it can be crushed down and made into more bottles and jars without any degradation in quality. We have long had collection points such as bottle banks and local councils now collect glass as part of the weekly waste pickup from many homes.
Paper: Making paper from recycled paper uses a lot less energy than making it from wood pulp. That means recycling our newspapers, cardboard boxes and other packaging makes things a lot more sustainable. This is important when you realise that we use 12.5 million tonnes of it every year, most of which can be used again.
Plastic: This is more problematic than either glass or paper as many local areas don’t have the facilities for processing and recycling plastic. There are also different types of plastic that makes the issue more complicated. It is one of the recycling areas that will no doubt improve over the next decade or so as the technology develops.
Metal cans: Your average coke can is made from aluminium and can also be recycled indefinitely. In fact, making cans from recycled material uses just 5% of the energy that is need to do it from scratch. If you want to be more sustainable at the moment, buying your drinks in cans rather than plastic bottles can be the better eco-friendly choice.
Other areas that we now recycle or reuse are electrical components as well as some parts of batteries but these processes are still in their early stages and much more needs to be done in the future.
Recycling varies across councils and what your responsibilities are can change depending on whether you live in London, Birmingham or in a more rural area. Some councils have just one container that is used for recycling and is sorted in a central depot, others have several small boxes and it’s up to the householder to separate different items.
Find out more about recycling in the UK here.