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Sunday, April 6, 2008

What Happens To The Rubbish We Produce????

What happens to the rubbish we produce?
How much waste we produce and what we do with it are vital if we wish to live in a sustainable society. The reasons behind the processes we employ are discussed in our topics sheet – the problem with waste.
Waste from our homes is generally collected by our local authorities through regular waste collection, or by special collections for recycling. In addition, householders may make special trips to their civic amenity (CA) site, or organise a bulky waste collection in order to dispose of particular items.

Whilst it is difficult to monitor reduction and reuse schemes, councils and waste management companies do collect figures allowing us to note how much of collected waste is intended for recycling (or recovery) and how much for final disposal through landfill. The main methods currently employed are landfilling, recycling, composting and energy from waste plants.

At the most basic level landfilling involved placing waste in a hole in the ground and covering it with soil. Today, the engineering of a modern landfill is a complex process, typically involving lining and capping individual "cells" into which waste is compacted and covered to prevent the escape of polluting liquid or gases. Systems are installed to capture and remove the gases and liquids produced by the rotting rubbish.

Household waste recycling

Recyclate from recycling collections are frequently sent to a materials recycling facility (MRF).At the MRF the materials typically travel along a conveyor belt and the specific fractions are gradually removed. Metals may be extracted using magnets, paper taken off by weight and other screening devises used. Following separation the constituent material are baled prior to sending to reprocessors.The activities at these plants are specific to the material being processed – pulping and shredding of paper, granulation of plastics, melting of metals and glass to name but a few. Many goods produced with recycled content will end up in the shops as ordinary household products, such as bin bags, stationery, furniture, or even filling for duvets and pillows. See our information sheets on each specific material for further details.

The biodegradable component of municipal waste that will break down is know as BMW and includes kitchen and garden waste, paper, card and more. Composting allows this material to break down and results in the formation of compost that can be used as fertilizer.Although compost can be made at home, councils are increasingly developing centralised composting schemes for residents’ garden waste to tackle this large and problematic part of the waste stream.A Waste Watch information sheet on composting is available here.

Incineration is the burning of waste. Incineration may be carried out with or without energy recovery. The energy released from burning the rubbish is often used to generate electricity.

Additional technologies

Research and development of new technologies to deal with the waste we produce are constantly developing. Among the techniques are alternatives to incineration such as pyrolysis and gasification and also anaerobic digestion, mechanical biological treatment and more. For further details please see our information sheet Waste and recycling - collection and disposal.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Waste At Home

So you would like more information on waste at home:

Get general information, such as how much we recycle here

Find your nearest bring bank, or get your local authority details here

Find out about a particular waste material, then click here

Find out why it is a good idea to buy recycled products here

What we produce!

We all produce waste of some sort, whether it is the empty drinks can, or the grass clippings from the garden. We estimate that nearly 30million tonnes of household waste were collected in the UK in 2003/04. That's over 500 kg, or half a tonne, of rubbish per person per year!

So where does it all go?

A total of:

  • 72% of municipal waste is landfilled - which means it's buried in the ground.
  • 9% is incinerated - which means it's burnt - this is also called energy from waste
Dealing with our rubbish in this way is not an ideal solution. When we bury or burn our rubbish we are losing valuable natural resources and wasting the energy, water and transport costs used in its production. Land filling and incineration can harm the environment if not properly managed. Many landfill sites are nearly full and we are rapidly running out of suitable land, close to where the rubbish is produced, for new sites. In any case, these sites are often unwelcome neighbours - we keep producing the rubbish, but we don't want it disposed of near to where we live.

The alternative?
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We would all benefit from:

  • Reducing the amount of rubbish we create
  • Reusing as much of our rubbish as possible
  • Increasing the 19% of waste that we currently recycle and compost (although the latest figures suggest we are now recycling 23%)
That is what the 3Rs are about - reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reducing - every year the amount of rubbish we produce increases and this leads to increased costs for society - both financial and environmental. The majority of the resources that we use to make things - only to throw them away - can't be replaced. Throwing away our rubbish puts pressure on the environment - not only from the landfills and incinerators, but also because we have to extract and process even more resources, and transport our new goods and our old rubbish so increasing vehicle emissions. As consumers, we have the ability to reverse this trend - buy only the right quantity of what we really need, choose products with less packaging, and buy from producers employing sustainable practices.

Reusing - we can cut down on the amount of rubbish we have to get rid of by reusing our materials. Computers, furniture, clothing - so many items can be reused. Setting the printer to print on both sides of a sheet of paper, repairing our broken appliances and shoes or finding a charity that will make use of them - we help ourselves and others, and delay the point at which materials become waste.

Recycling - putting materials aside for recycling helps in many ways: we send less rubbish to landfill or incineration, and we save valuable materials and energy - for example, plastic bottles can be converted into fleeces and garden furniture, whilst recycling aluminium cans saves 95% of the energy used in making a new can. New technologies are furthering our ability to recycle what was previously our waste and turn it back into the resources that we need.

If you would like to recycle more, but do not know where to take your recyclables, then visit this site recyclenow. Here you will also find contact details for your local authority.

Buy recycled - If you find that a material is not being recycled in your area, it may be because the markets are not strong enough for the local authority to pay for collecting it. To help alleviate this, support those industries that use recycled materials by buying recycled products. Buying recycled 'closes the loop' in recycling - remember that it's not enough just to recycle, buying recycled ensures that the materials you send for recycling are actually used again.

You may also be interested in other ways to use your power as a consumer to help promote sustainability - visit green choices for further suggestions on environmentally friendly shopping.

Sustainable solutions - The problem of what to do with the waste we produce is worldwide though the solutions have to be provided locally. In the UK there are many organisations - governmental and independent, local and national who are trying to move Britain forward towards a sustainable society. (see our links page).The reports and information they have produced are a valuable resource to help us all move on and really begin the "good riddance of bad rubbish".

Recycling and beyond Wasteline information sheet explaining the benefits of reducing, reusing and recycling waste - facts, statistics and a glossary of terms included. For a referenced version please open the pdf of the same name.

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