Recycling: waste as a resource

You bought something in the shops today You’re gonna go home and you’re gonna feel good for a while But then you’ll feel depressed again Because you’re a consumer And you have no soul You’re a consumer And you have no soul. Well, we may enjoy the banter or not of a comedian like Dave McSavage but there’s no doubt that the recent increases in domestic consumption has put our environment under huge pressure. We may not be doing too well at football but there’s one European League Table that we’re consistently top. With a whopping 705 kilograms of waste per head per annum Ireland has the dubious distinction of being the highest producers of waste in Europe. Per capita, Ireland consumes more per year than any other European country. Though recycling centres are improving, we need many more of them and greater emphasis must be put on prevention, reduction, reuse and repair. Together with civic amenity centres like this we also have our green household bins which are sent to recycling centres for sorting. The ever increasing potential of recyclables is obvious. Plastic is transformed into a range of products from toothbrushes to fleece jackets. Aluminium and tin cans get made into new cans saving a massive amount of the energy it takes to make them from scratch. Scrap metal becomes things like buckets and tools when it’s exported to the UK. This is the quality of clothes being discarded in Ireland today. Some of it goes to making new materials; some of it goes straight to the developing world. Reusable materials can be safely extracted from toxic products like old batteries. By recycling glass in centres like Rehab in Ballymount we save huge amounts of energy and CO² compared to making new glass. On a yearly basis we would handle in the region of 60,000 tonnes of glass. We send it through a series of machines that sort, screen, crush and remove all the contamination that would normally be in that glass. One of the stages that we send the glass through is through a series of machines known as KSP units and what they do is we actually utilise lasers to identify anything in the glass stream that isn’t glass. Ideally what we are trying to catch are pieces of stone, pieces of ceramic and pieces of metal. For every tonne of glass that we send to our customers we’re saving them 30 gallons of oil. So on a yearly basis we’re recycling 60,000 tonnes, that’ll give you some idea of the vast amount of energy that is saved by recycling the product as opposed to mining it directly from the ground. Plants such as Rehab in Ballymount are the exception rather than the rule in a country that lacks some of the most basic recycling industries. Over the last 10 years we have become increasingly adept at recycling but 85% of our recyclables go abroad to be processed. These include paper and card, tin and aluminium, plastics and glass. Now that we’ve established a culture of sorting we need to move on to the next stage: investing in new enterprises to convert most of our sorted waste into new products here in Ireland. Our strategy at the moment is that most of our recyclables are sent abroad, we have a small recycling industry here we have some facilities. We have people who make aggregate out of glass bottles; we have people who make plastic bags out of waste plastic so we have some recycling industry here. For some of the larger reprocessing of materials they are sent abroad and clean, segregated recyclables are actually a valuable commodity and they are freely traded on the world market. Long distance shipping of recyclables emits huge amounts of CO² that could be avoided if these resources were kept here in Ireland but our economy of scale is too small to compete in this open world market. We need to incentivise new enterprises that will keep these valuable resources here. A way to fund this would be by placing an environmental levy on all disposable products. Take these heavy weekend newspapers. We might want the newspaper and maybe the magazine and the sports section but do we really want the supplements with their flimsily disguised advertising material that goes with them? Why should we spend public money dealing with the mountains of waste newsprint that results? As little as 5 cent per paper would pay for the complete recycling of all our newspapers here in Ireland. Other major recyclables could be treated in the same way, the levies would be based on the financial incentive needed to set up and maintain new Irish recycling plants. This would also prove a welcome boost for the local economy. The Government have established a market development group whose job it is to develop markets in Ireland for recyclables and encourage companies to set up and recycle goods in Ireland. So there is some work being done on it. Levies would stimulate indigenous recycling industries and encourage manufacturers to reduce packaging. It would also nurture a reuse and repair culture and help replace the disposable consumerism that is our current obsession. Buying things you don’t need things We need to buy things To reassure ourselves that we are alive But we really don’t need the things that we buy We’ve just got big empty holes in our inner chakras Those holes used to be filled with religion But now we don’t believe in God anymore Consumerism is the new religion. What did you buy?

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