So why should you care about the waste that you (and everyone else) produce every hour of every day of every year? And why is it so important to reduce, reuse and recycle?
Here are some good reasons.
What a waste!
Throwing things away is a waste of the resources and energy which have been used to make the product.
If we reduce, reuse and recycle instead of throwing away, fewer new materials need to be quarried or mined and fewer plantations need to be grown to make new things. Many parts of the world have already been damaged by mining and quarrying, which destroy the natural environment and wildlife habitats and may cause environmental and health problems for local people. In addition, the vast majority of resources that we use in manufacturing products and providing services cannot be replaced and so will eventually run out.
Recycling also uses less energy than making things from scratch. A lot of this is the result of the oil and other fossil fuels that have to be used to transport raw materials around the world. For example, making aluminium cans from old ones uses only one twentieth of the energy needed to make them from raw materials. Every can made from recycled aluminium saves enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours.
Not only does reducing, reusing and recycling save resources and energy, it can also reduce pollution. Recycling old bottles, instead of making them from new, can cut pollution by up to 20% and reduce the demand for water by half. Making bags from recycled polythene rather than raw materials produces only a third of the sulphur dioxide and half of the nitrous oxide as well as only using one-eighth as much water.
When something is thrown away we are failing to see it as a resource. What is waste to one person may not be seen as waste by another. Increasingly people are realising that it makes economic sense as well as environmental sense to use “waste” rather than just throwing it away.
Where can we put it?
If we don’t reduce, reuse and recycle our materials, they will have to be disposed of in one way or another.
Most of the U.K.’s waste currently ends up in landfill sites, large holes in the ground which, over time, are filled up with rubbish. Once a landfill site is full, it is covered over, meaning that all of the materials in the site are buried and no longer of use. Also, although most landfill sites are well managed, people don’t tend to like living near them. In any case, the space available to create new landfill sites is now almost all used up, so we’re going to have to think about something else to do with our waste.
One of the main alternatives to landfill is incineration, which means getting rid of the waste by burning it. Although the burning of waste in incinerators is often used to make energy, for example to heat nearby homes and offices, it also results in valuable resources going up in smoke. In the same way that people don’t like living near landfill sites they also don’t like living near to incinerators, particularly as they can view them as a potential health risk.
We’ve got to do it…or else!
The European Union has told our government that it must reduce the amount of waste produced in the U.K. and increase the percentage that is recycled. In turn, the government has set strict recycling targets for local authorities. This explains why we’re all being asked to make a greater effort to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Home front – taking action against waste at home
Household waste is a major problem with each household in the UK producing on average about a tonne of rubbish every year.
Fortunately there are things that we can all do about it. We call these the 3Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle.
Reduce means cut the amount of stuff you use in the first place so that you have less to throw away. Here are some ideas.
- Don’t buy things that you don’t really need.
- When you do buy things, choose things that are well made and that will last.
- Choose toys and games that don’t need batteries. If you do need batteries, use rechargeable ones.
- Don’t just throw things away if they break down. Instead, repair them yourself (if you know how) or get them repaired at a specialist shop. Take particular care with electrical items as trying to mend these without knowing what you are doing can lead to serious accidents.
- Buy snacks and other food with less packaging on. For example you could buy an apple instead of a packet of crisps. Or you could take cake or biscuits to school from a large packet at home instead of buying individually wrapped biscuits or cakes.
- Try not to buy take away food like pizzas, fish and chips, burgers and kebabs which as well as not being all that healthy, usually have a lot of waste associated with them.
- Use reusable bottles or flasks for your drinks instead of individual cartons or cans and use reusable airtight containers for snacks and packed lunches instead of disposable wrappers.
- Don’t use disposable things. For example: use a normal camera instead of a disposable one; use a washable handkerchief instead of paper tissues; or, if you’re having a party, use metal cutlery and real crockery instead of that made from plastic or paper.
- Encourage your family to take their own shopping bags when they go shopping. This will reduce the number of carrier bags you waste.
Reuse means use things again (and again and again). If you can’t reduce, then try to reuse. Lots of things can be reused. If you can’t reuse them yourself try to find someone else who can.
- Instead of throwing away old clothes, toys, books, CDs, and videos, take these to a charity shop, car boot sale or jumble sale so that someone else can use them.
- When you’ve finished reading a book, give it to your friends to read. After they’ve done so, you can talk about it in the playground.
- Save glass or plastic containers. Decorate them and reuse them for storing other things. It helps if you make sure that they are properly labelled.
- Reuse yoghurt pots or the bottom half of plastic bottles to grow plants in.
- Reuse envelopes by sticking a label over the old address. This will save money as well as reducing the number of envelopes that are thrown away.
- Plastic carrier bags can be reused several times as shopping bags and can then be used as bin liners.
- Get your printer and toner cartridges refilled when you’ve finished with them. There are now high street shops that do this and it’s cheaper and less wasteful than buying a new cartridge.
- There are an increasing number of companies which collect and refurbish computer equipment and mobile phones, some of which is then sold cheaply to schools and charities.
- When you grow out of your old bike, give it to a friend or family member who would like it or alternatively sell it to someone else who can make use of it.
- Suggest that your parents buy milk in glass bottles from your milkman which can be returned for reuse. This reduces the number of plastic or cardboard milk containers that might otherwise be thrown away.
Recycle means using things that have already been used, to make new things. Only recycle when you can’t reduce or reuse. Here are some ways in which you can do this.
- Save glass bottles or jars, drinks cans, aluminium foil and paper and take them to a recycling bank. Some places also recycle plastic bottles, clothes, shoes and other items.
- To find out what you can recycle where in your area, contact the recycling officer at your local council.
- Although they cannot usually be put into paper banks, many councils now collect old phone books and Yellow Pages. For details, contact the Directory Recycling Scheme by calling 0800 671444 or look at www.yellgroup.com.
- Encourage your parents to make use of kerbside collections for paper, glass, plastics bottles and cans, if these are provided by your local council.
- Make or buy a compost bin or worm composter. Use these to recycle your waste food scraps and garden waste into compost, which you can use to grow new food or flowers.
- Five million Christmas trees are bought in Britain every year. If you buy one, make sure it’s composted afterwards. Your local council should be able to tell you where to do this.
- Buy recycled. It’s only by buying things made from recycled materials that you will make it worthwhile to recycle things in the first place.
So remember to reduce, reuse and recycle your waste. It is much better to reduce waste in the first place as then there is less to deal with. Reusing things is the second best option as it saves you buying new things. After you have reduced and reused as much as you can, recycle.
The last thing that should cross your mind is to throw it in the bin!
A glossary of words connected to waste and the 3Rs.
The short way of saying ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’, perhaps the three most important words in waste management.
Agenda 21 is an international agreement to reduce the impact of the human race on the world’s environment.
Waste that can break down or rot naturally when attacked by bacteria. Examples include food and garden waste. Other kinds of waste are said to be non-biodegradable.
A place where people bring recyclable materials to a central collection point to be placed in special containers such as bottle banks, from where they can be collected for recycling. Often found in supermarket car parks.
Compost is created by the controlled breakdown of biodegradable material such as garden and kitchen waste. It can be used to improve soil structure and nutrient levels without the need for artificial fertilisers and peat-based composts.
Waste which comes from homes. Also known as household waste.
energy from waste
This uses the energy contained in waste to generate power and heat while reducing the amount of waste. Examples are incineration used to provide heat to nearby buildings, and methane gas from landfill sites being used to generate electricity. Also known as energy recovery.
The illegal dumping of rubbish in unauthorised places such as roadsides.
A gas that absorbs heat and therefore contributes to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere (the ‘greenhouse effect’). Examples of greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane.
Waste that is potentially harmful to humans, other living things and the environment and so needs to be carefully disposed of. Examples of hazardous waste include asbestos and poisons. Also called Special Waste.
Getting rid of waste by burning it at high temperatures. Around 9% of the UK’s household waste is incinerated.
Also known as collect schemes, these are schemes where households put recyclable materials on the roadsides outside their homes, for collection by the local authority or a waste contractor.
Most rubbish collected from homes in the UK is buried in large holes in the ground (often old quarries) called landfill sites. Many of our current landfill sites are nearly full and we are rapidly running out of suitable land to create more.
A tax on every tonne of rubbish sent to landfill sites. The tax is designed to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill sites by increasing the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste.
Liquid consisting of a mixture of rainwater and rotten organic materials which drains from a landfill site.
Waste (usually paper, plastics and glass) thrown around in the environment, rather than being placed in a proper bin or other waste facility. Not all waste is litter but all litter is waste.
Materials Reclamation Facility
Often known as an MRF (pronounced ‘murf’), this is a place where materials are taken to be sorted and stored before they are sent off to be recycled.
A gas given off by landfill sites and which is both highly inflammable and a major contributor to global warming. As well as being produced by landfill sites, methane is also the main ingredient of the gas which we use to cook and heat our homes.
A logo meaning that something can either be recycled or that it is made from recycled material.
Substances of use to humans that are derived either from the Earth (e.g. coal, oil and metal ores) or from living things.
Waste derived from plants and animals makes up about 20% of the weight of an average dustbin. A lot of the organic waste created by households consists of food but other sources are garden waste and the contents of babies’ nappies. Yuck!
Putting poisonous or other harmful substances into the environment.
The basic resources used to make materials and products. For example, raw materials used in the manufacture of steel include iron ore, coal and limestone.
Recycling means using things that have already been used to make new things. This can involve turning the old material into a new version of the same thing. Alternatively, materials can be recycled into something completely different.
Reduce means avoiding creating waste in the first place and is an even better thing to do than reusing or recycling. Examples of waste reduction include buying items with less packaging and not replacing items until really necessary.
Means that something (for example a bottle) can be refilled rather than having to be thrown away when it is empty.
A general word for the things and materials that we obtain from the Earth. Resources can be classified in two ways.
Reusing means using something again, either for the same purpose or for something completely different. Examples include returning milk bottles for refilling and repairing electrical goods when they go wrong instead of throwing them away.
Anything that we think we no longer have a use for and so throw away. Means much the same as waste but not the same as litter.
This means finding ways to meet the needs of the present generation without damaging the environment or preventing future generations from being able to meet their own needs.
Waste that is poisonous to humans or other living things.
Anything that we think we no longer have a use for and so throw away.
This describes the way in which some ways of dealing with waste are better for the environment than others. Reduction of waste is the best option followed by reuse. Only when nether of these is possible, should waste by recycled. Disposal through landfill or incineration should only be the last resort.
waste transfer station
A place (often a large warehouse) where waste is separated or ‘bulked up’ before being taken elsewhere for recovery or disposal.
A container specially designed to allow worms to break down discarded food and other organic waste and convert it into compost and liquid fertiliser.
A term which refers to the whole process of sending less waste to landfill and incineration but instead finding ways to reduce, reuse or recycle it.
Wacky waste facts!
Have you ever thought about how much rubbish you and your family throw away every week? Or why we need to stop throwing so much of it away? This page is full of amazing waste facts. Did you know that?
1. The UK produces more then 100 million tonnes of waste every year. In less than two hours, the waste we produce would fill the Albert Hall in London. Every eight months it would fill Lake Windermere, the largest and deepest lake in England!
2. On average, each person in the UK throws away their own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks.
3. The average household in the UK produces more then a tonne of waste every year. Put together, this comes to a total of 31 million tonnes per year, equivalent to the weight of three and a half million double-decker buses, a queue of which would go around the world two and a half times.
4. Every year we produce about 3% more waste than the year before. This might not sound much but, if we carry on at this rate, it means that we will double the amount of waste we produce every 25 years.
5. Most of the world’s waste is produced by people from the ‘developed’ world (which includes Britain), even though these people only make up about 5% of the world’s population.
6. Paper and card make up about a fifth of the typical household dustbin. About half of this consists of newspapers and magazines.
7. Two-thirds of paper is recycled, making it one of the main materials recycled in the UK.
8. Each Christmas as much as 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper ends up in UK rubbish bins, enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands.
9. It is not known how long glass takes to break down, but it is so long that glass made in the Middle East over 3,000 years ago can still be found today.
10. Milk bottles are used an average of 13 times before recycling.
11. In 2003, the recycling of glass saved enough energy to launch ten space shuttle missions!
12. We produce and use twenty times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago.
13. Every year an estimated 17.5 billion plastic bags are given away by supermarkets. This represents over 130,000 tonnes of plastic – enough to cover an area the size of London twice with a layer of bags.
14. 25 two litre pop bottles can be recycled into an adult-size fleece jacket.
15. We get through 5 billion drinks cans every year. Each one could be recycled back into a new can, saving large amounts of energy, raw materials and waste.
16. Weight for weight, empty alumunium cans are worth 6 to 20 times more than any other used packaging material. There are more than 30 million pounds worth of empty aluminium drinks cans in the UK just waiting to be collected, cashed in and recycled.
17. UK households throw away between £250 and £400 of potentially edible food every year.
18. It has been calculated that, before they are toilet trained, the average child goes through 3,796 nappies, most of which end up buried in landfill sites.
What happens to it?
19. In 2005/06 at least 6.8 milllion tonnes of household waste were recycled or composted. This amounts to 27 percent of total household waste. However, it has been estimated that up to 80% of the contents of our dustbins could be recycled or composted.
20. Other countries recycle a lot more than we do in the UK. For example, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany recycle around 60% of their waste.
Recycle your old unwanted items for free to new homes. Recycle advice and recycling information on recycling metal, computer, glass, plastic and paper.