What is waste?

Filed in by on July 6, 2008 0 Comments

What is waste and is it the same as reusable materials that we want to recycle?

There is a lot of confusion over the terms ‘waste’ and ‘recycling’.

The title of our website My Zero Waste might lead you to think that we are living off the land with our chickens and goat in true ‘Good Life’ style.

Much as we might like that, we are just an ordinary household with an aim to reduce the amount of rubbish we send to landfill each week until we have nothing to put out. This means increasing the amount of recycling we do and decreasing the purchase of products that have non-recyclable packaging.

Waste is technically defined as “Any materials unused and rejected as worthless or unwanted” and “A useless or profitless activity; using or expending or consuming thoughtlessly or carelessly” That’s our view of waste also.

It is said that waste to one person can be a useful material for someone else. We totally agree with that and that’s why we always try to recycle any unwanted material and packaging that is waste to ‘us’, in the hope that it can be reworked into something re-useable from its materials.

One man’s rubbish can certainly be another’s treasure – as Freecycle users worldwide will testify!

Materials like glass, tin cans and paper are easy to recycle. By recycling, we can maintain a cycle of reusable material that really helps the environment by reducing the need for new resources and production energy.

What we recycle then is not waste, but reusable materials.

True waste cannot be recycled, reused or reconstituted, or in the process  it produces a toxic bi-product that makes this a worse choice than hiding away in the landfill or in the seas! There are very few materials like that. Even nuclear waste can be reprocessed, although the cost and toxic effluents produced are very high. This is the  reason why some nuclear waste is incarcerated and buried. It’s a dreadful option, but the alternative can be even worse!

The challenge lies in the availability of economical ways to reprocess our ‘waste’ into another’s treasure. Today’s waste plastic can become tomorrow’s fleece sweatshirt with the right recycling process.

The challenge as we see it is that it is not easy for everyone to know HOW or WHERE to recycle waste materials. In other instances the knowledge is there but convenience isn’t. Fortunately, most places in the UK offer ever improving kerbside collections and local recycling facilities.
The other difficulty is that manufacturers leave us little choice. If you buy a new TV for instance, it comes in layers of polythene, protected by polystyrene and might have air filled bubble wrap around it. These materials become your waste to dispose of once you get the product home.

The cardboard box, however, can be recycled and made into new boxes and other products. In this case the waste you recycle is really reusable material and not waste at all.

If you are not living close to a recycling centre there are many products that are almost impossible to recycle, such as paint, batteries, fluorescent bulbs and cooking oils. If you travel many miles to responsibly dispose of these sort of things in a recycling centre, then you significantly add to fuel exhaust pollution and road congestion.

What are your other choices? Don’t try this at home folks … try and disguise the waste and put it in your rubbish bin, dump it in the land somewhere (fly tipping) or just hang onto it until a realistic alternative arrives. All these are really bad choices and turn your unwanted materials into a real waste challenge.

There are three ongoing solutions to this.

1- Make careful and thoughtful choices when you buy things. Look for recyclable products and packaging to prevent non recyclable waste. A wise purchase choice makes things so much easier for you.

2- Lobby manufacturers to make products that are easier to recycle and contain less waste packaging, especially non-recycleble materials.

3- Lobby government and local councils to provide more comprehensive recycling facilities in your local area.

With the above goals realised, nearly everything can be recycled and Zero waste is not only possible, but also a crucial requirement that becomes more critical as pollution and environmental stress increases.

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