The Recycling Myth - REDUCE and REUSE
I am not a fan of recycling. Yes, it makes us feel good, but the waste is still produced and it gives us a false sense of security thinking that once the paper or bottle goes into a selective collection bin the problem is taken care of. When we recycle we feel that we are doing our part to save the environment - we can touch it, it is tangible. We see the paper going into the selective collection bin, and have great confidence in industry and government to recycle it - it disappears - it is recycled. This is the myth, and a dangerous one at that. Recycling is one step, and not the first step, in a strict waste prevention/management hierarchy. It makes us forget that recycling is but one step lower down on a hierarchy of more environmentally-friendly behavior, and thus mentally blinds/blocks us from doing more than we are. Moreover, recycling can only have a positive impact if the loop is closed; if there is a market for products made out of recycled materials and if people actually purchase them. Recycling, while a noble enterprise, is still and end-of-pipe solution, treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. Grand successes such as the municipal recycling scheme for Seattle, Washington and Germany often mask the true situation in which waste is transported abroad to Third World countries or Central and Eastern Europe for "recycling." Once it arrives, only fragments of the waste are actually recycled, such as lead from batteries, while the rest is improperly disposed or dumped. Other times, the destination country does not have the technology or capacity to reprocess the shipment. Often, shipping materials for recycling may mask a darker side, a side in which waste trade plays an important role. As costs increase for disposal in the West, and legislation is enacted which forces alternative and more environmental but costly methods, companies and governments are looking for cheaper and not exactly legal loopholes.
Some products and packaging carry the label, "recyclable." "Recyclable" does not equal "recycled," and furthermore is often misleading. Something is only recyclable if it is single-material or easily separated, the technology exists in the country, is easily accessible, and there is a means to guarantee clean separately collected materials to the recycler. For example, McDonalds writes on their chips boxes that they are recyclable, but the paper is covered with plastic (and food waste) thus rendering it impossible to recycle even in Western circumstances. In addition, something may be technically recyclable, but only if communities and industry have the necessary incentives, capital, and technology to achieve this. Sometimes governments will also include incineration as a recycling method, though it is not.
There is always going to be waste (although not in the natural world), however, it does not have to be more than is necessary, toxic or non-recyclable. Moreover, there will always be a certain component that cannot be reduced any further or recycled and must be sent for final disposal, however, the means of final disposal does not have to create a more dangerous material or environmental situation than before (incineration, uncontrolled landfill).
The phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle" is not just for bumper-stickers, it is a hierarchy of waste prevention and management that must be strictly adhered to if we are to achieve a sustainable society, one in which are children are not awash in garbage and one in which the rate and kind of consumption is consistent with both preserving and utilizing the resources of the planet in an intelligent and far-sighted manner. Although European Union legislation would like us to believe that all forms of waste management are equal, NGOs maintain that the hierarchy must be fiercely followed and enforced.
Prevention - By not introducing unrecyclable (including multi-layered and multi-material packaging) and non-reusable materials and preventing the incorporation of hazardous materials into products (which eventually become waste), such materials cease to be a problem to the environment and eliminate the need for disposal or management in any form. Moreover, prevention can be advanced through building long-life products instead of manufacturing products that will have to be thrown away in a short time due to short life-spans. Most importantly, consumers can have an enormous impact by using their "power of the purse" and not buying over-packaged products or products containing hazardous materials. For example, consumers may choose not to buy products packaged in PVC, or buy soda in reusable/refillable glass bottles instead of aluminum cans (refillable bottles are a prevention and reduction method, but often appear in the reuse category as well). Manufacturers can choose not to use certain materials, and instead choose to utilize various more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as alternative solvents and organically-based plastics. Prevention is everyone's responsibility, and clean production and technologies must be the rule.
If no more waste can be prevented at the source, these other steps follow in a strict hierarchy.
Minimization/Reduction: By optimally decreasing the use of hazardous materials when they cannot be prevented szodaviz szifon(meaning that there are no more environmentally-friendly alternatives), reducing consumption, and reducing the weight and volume of content materials in a produced item, solid waste can be significantly abated. In addition, manufacturers can offer, and consumers choose, to purchase products in bulk or with no packaging. Not only weight can be reduced, but also consumption. In the Netherlands, a light-weight refillable glass milk bottle has proven very effective. Another example is only making double-sided photocopies, and standardizing bottles in Europe (Euro-bottle) or reusable transport packaging.
Re-use: the re-use of materials/products whose material components and hazardous characteristics have been minimized and produced as cleanly as possible. Examples include using the blank back-sides of used papers for telephone messages or in a fax machine, refillable bottles such as Ecover domestic cleaning and beauty products, Body Shop shampoos, and milk and soda bottles made from glass, PE, and PC. Refillable glass milk and beer bottles can be re-used an average of 30-35 times before breaking.
Recycling/Secondary Utilization: the reprocessing of materials that have already been re-used as much as possible into new and not necessarily the same products - but it has its limitations. Waste paper may be recycled into new paper, but also into sound-proofing material, used rubber tyres may be recycled into carpet matting and used in asphalt, throw away PET soda bottles may be recycled into tennis-balls or carpets. Organic waste can be composted and used for natural garden fertilizer. Glass can be, after re-use, recycled indefinitely, while paper can only maintain the fiber strength for 2-3 recyclings. More importantly, a full loop must be created from separate collection, to recycling facility, to the consumer in the form of readily available recycled products. There are two types of recycling; post-production and post-consumer. Post-production recycling is basically picking up scraps from the manufacturing floor and putting them back into the process. Post-consumer recycling is separately collecting the materials after consumers used them, then recycling them. In many countries, a recycled product will state with a label what percentage of the product content is from recycled material and if it is from post-production waste or post-consumer waste. Furthermore, recycling is only recycling if the same product is remade, such as a new bottle out of old bottle waste. More often, a material is downcycled.
Downcycling: When a waste material is reprocessed into another, but lower-quality product, not the same as the original. For example, when waste paper is made into toilet paper or egg cartons; or when PET bottles ar reprocessed into carpets or tennisball fuzz.
If the first four steps in the hierarchy are followed, there results very little need for final disposal options. The community saves money and the environment. Landfilling and incineration are both environmentally damaging practices, and very expensive, while other options are more cost-effective and create jobs. Through prevention, reduction, reuse, and recycling, the waste stream should ideally be reduced to such a level that no final disposal capacity is necessary or the capacity requirements and therefore the monetary and environmental cost are minimized.
Controlled Landfill: A landfill is an end-of-the-line waste management scheme, as are the following "solutions" and should only be implemented when prevention, reduction, reuse, and recycling have been applied to the waste-stream. Landfills are usually municipal constructions servicing one large community or several smaller ones. It is a large pit in a geologically stable and non-porus area, usually with a layer of clay beneath it or with a synthetic liner on the bottom. Waste is deposited in alternating layers with soil until the area is full, then capped with another layer of clay or synthetic/plastic cap. Hazardous materials such as small household chemical waste, industrial waste, and toxic waste, should not be deposited here, but in a separate facility with the ability to "safely" dispose of it. The site should not be on a flood plain, or if it is, one that rarely floods (every 100 years or so). In Croatia, no landfill or incinerator may be constructed if the area is in an area which experiences 1 or more floods every 100 years. Underground water sources and surface water should not come into contact with the landfill, and points around the site must be monitored by environmental authorities for run-off and its chemical content. Landfills are built in such a way that they do not allow water and light to affect the contents, which means they will not decompose - and thus stays very much in the same state as buried for decades. Ideally, after waste prevention, reduction, reuse, and recycling, the amount of waste going to the landfill should be minimal, and in fact, a landfill may not even be required.
Uncontrolled Landfill: In essence this is a dump. Many communities in Eastern Europe and other areas of the world do not have access to safe and proper waste disposal. As a result, communities dump their waste in a hole, often in contact with underground flowing water (and a supply of their drinking water), or at the end of the main street.
Incineration-to-Energy: That the combustion of waste to produce energy is possible, and the amount of energy produced is useful, is not necessarily true. Waste can be burnt for energy, however, it is an end-of-pipe solution which does not address the root causes of the problem - the production of the waste itself. In addition, it is a myth that such a process provides significant energy in comparison to that saved by recycling. See below about the myth and problems of incineration. Waste is not produced with the purpose in mind to use it as an energy source. Is it waste-to-energy, or wasted energy?!
Recovery: Usually a euphemism for energy-from-waste incineration. Recovery is not recycling. The energy "recovered" is minimal when compared to the energy saved reusing or recycling the same material.
How to reuse in Hungary:
vizszuruVery little is actually recycled in Hungary, which is why it is even more important to reduce and minimise the amount of waste you produce by reusing. There are hundreds of tips I could point out, but here are just a few. Contrary to the spin, juice and milk cartons are NOT recyclable. Please do not buy them - or if you do, don't put them with the paper waste. Instead of buying juice in boxes, get a juicer and make your own juice. There are several places in town now where you can get fresh milk from the farmers and bring your own reusable bottle for refill, such as at Hunyadi ter Market on Saturdays, or the milk van at the corner of Jaszai Mari ter and Falk Miksa u. To avoid the PET bottle disaster caused by water bottles, just drink out of the tap. If you are afraid of the water quality, you can find a range of water filter jugs at Media Markt, Saturn, and on-line for around 4000-5000 HUF with replacement filters (good for about 3 months) averaging around 1000 HUF. Fizzy water - buy a siphon and refillable CO2 cartridges, or buy the refillable 2 litre bottles in the courtyard of Hunyadi ter 3 (?) for about 70 HUF. Rechargeable batteries and battery chargers are widely available now, with battery lifetime averaging 1000 charges (that is thousands of batteries you do not have to buy, or dispose of). Buying takeaway? Bring your own reusable container. Say no to plastic bags and always have a reusable textile bag with you (these also make good presents). Go for the refillable beer bottles and avoid the aluminium cans.
If you still have stuff to recycle after prevention, minimisation, reduction and reuse, this interactive map by the Association of Concious Consumers can help you locate the recycling points closest to you.
[Monday, August 29, 2011 ]