Obeo’s previous blog post looked at plastics and outlined the effect of plastic pollution both on our health and on the environment. This week we take a look at how to manage the plastic waste that comes into our homes.
If we are serious about tackling global warming then we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Reducing our consumption of plastics is paramount. A world without plastics is hard to imagine, we will never be 100% plastic free, but we can make a significant reduction by curbing our use of plastics. If you are looking to reduce your household plastic consumption, we can help.
Reusing and recycling the plastics that we do use is also very important. We need to make sure that any plastic we do consume becomes part of a circular economy. Our objective should be to keep plastic from landfill, incineration and especially our oceans.
The Current State of Plastic Pollution
Ireland’s current recycling rate for plastic is 36% with around 20% still ending up in landfill or the incinerator. However, in an effort to combat plastic pollution, the EU has set Ireland ambitious targets for 2030. Not only will our recycling targets increase from 98,000 tonnes to 175,000 tonnes per annum but all the plastic produced must be recyclable. Achieving these targets is heavily dependent on the manufacturer taking full responsibility for the products or packaging they produce. It also means that householders like you and me must have a clear understanding of best practice around plastics recycling so that we can combat plastic pollution once and for all. We need to appreciate that we, the householder, play a key role in Ireland meeting it’s EU recycling targets.
Despite the launch of a National Recycling List contamination levels in the green bin are still at around 30%. A portion of this comes from a minority of householders showing blatant disregard for the principles of recycling. This is usually in an attempt to avoid bin charges. Yes, we have all heard the horror stories of nappies stuffed into cereal boxes. However, plastic contamination I believe is mostly down to householder confusion (and I am one of those householders). Every time my son holds up a piece of plastic and asks which bin it should go into I feel like I’m on University Challenge with a 10% chance of getting the answer right.
So, if like me your little one is challenging your recycling know-how here is a little recap on plastics recycling.
Plastics that CAN go into the Green Bin
In general, all bottles, tubs and trays can go into the recycling bin e.g. yogurt containers, margarine tubs, liquid soap containers, drink bottles, shampoo bottles, mouthwash bottles, cleaning products bottles, detergent bottles and fruit trays etc. In short if it has an image of a triangle with a number 1, 2 or 4 in it (PETE, HDPE or LDPE) then your waste collector will accept it. Numbers 3, 5, 6 and 7 are not accepted in the green bin.
Plastics that CAN’T go into the Green Bin
Film or ‘scrunchy’ plastic can’t go into the recycling bin. These include, sweet or crisp wrappers, cling film, plastic bags, plastic netting around citrus fruits, fruit bags etc. Expanded polystyrene packing cannot be recycled. The only solution for expanded polystyrene is an outright ban (in my opinion). Silicone, although recyclable is not accepted by mainstream waste collectors. Kids plastic toys cannot be recycled in the household green bin and must go to the local amenity centre to avoid plastic pollution.
Tips on Recycling Plastic
- Plastic yogurt cartons with a cardboard sleeve must be separated before being put into the recycling bin.
- The base of a plastic meat tray can be recycled but the plastic film must be put into the black bin.
- Black plastic trays are now accepted by waste collectors.
- Stop buying plastic water bottles, instead buy a decent reusable bottle you can re-use for many years to come.
- The Green Dot symbol is seen on a lot of soft plastics. This does not mean that the plastic is recyclable. It means that the producer has financially contributed to the recycling of packaging in general. In my opinion, this is not a solution to plastic pollution.
What’s the Solution for Soft Plastics?
The easiest option is to put soft plastics into the black bin where they will end up in the incinerator or in a landfill. The best option is to try and avoid plastic packaging in general and especially those which we know are not recyclable. Companies like Terracycle repurpose problem packaging like Capri Sun containers into new products. Eco-bricks are also a popular way of both highlighting the plastics problem and making something reasonably useful too. Although both these options are better than plastic ending up in landfill or plastic pollution in our oceans none of these solutions are a substitute for not creating the waste in the first place.
1. Recycling list from my waste.ie
2. More information on recycling symbols and what they mean.