In the UK we produce some 28 million tonnes of household waste each year
(that's about half a tonne for every man, woman and child) and
the amount is growing by 3% per year. This is made up from:
(Source: Environment Agency. Graphic: The
Where does all this waste go? More than 80% of it goes into holes in the
ground and is buried. But these "landfill" sites are
becoming harder and harder to place and nobody wants a
landfill on their own doorstep. Meanwhile, we are only recycling
a measly 11% of our household waste.
If we add in commercial
and industrial waste the amount produced is around the 200
million tonnes per year mark, with 58% of it going to landfill.
At the current rate we will run out of Landfill sites in the UK
within the next six to seven years.
If we consider what can usefully be recycled then we can see
that the larger proportion of what we are putting into our
dustbins are useful resources.
When I first went to school in
the 1960's we learned the three R's: Reading, wRiting and
aRithmetic. Today, there are three new R's on the block, every
bit as important to our lives:
We humans are great consumers. We buy huge amounts of stuff,
whether we really need the stuff or not. Just think for a moment: when you reach the checkouts on an
average trip to the supermarket, how much of the contents of
your trolley are impulse buys? Unless money is really tight most
people collect a lot of impulse buys on their way round. So, for a start,
when you go shopping make and take a list and stick to it.
When making your choices try to choose the items with the
least packaging. In fact, if you choose packaged greengroceries
over loose supplies you'll pay through the nose for the privilege.
Don't believe me? Just check out the prices in the fruit 'n' veg
aisles. I did today, checking like for like sold loose and in
packaging and the results were staggering:
Cost per Kg.
¹ Price per bulb (packaged product supplied as three bulbs).
All prices obtained 4 June 2002 from Safeway (Glastonbury), except *Sainsburys.
Looks like Sainsburys really do charge a premium for
packaging - especially on broccoli and new spuds! Even so,
you're still looking at paying 25% to 45% more for the same
product in a package. I remember, not so long ago, that one of
the leading supermarkets tried to charge 5 or 10p per carrier
bag at the checkouts. There was such a furore about it that the
supermarket very quickly backed down. THAT is the power
of the consumer! But people don't seem to think about the
packaging charge on their fruit and vegetables. If they did they
would very quickly get angry that they were being charged 40p
for a polythene bag!
Don't just restrict the packaging choices to fresh
food; apply the same judgment whenever you are choosing between
two similar products. If everyone did this it wouldn't be
long before the "over-packagers" saw the errors of
While we're thinking about shopping for food, try to eat
fresh and local produce. This not only cuts down on the
packaging, but it also slashes the transport wastage as well as keeping jobs alive in
On the subject of those free plastic bags, the
Irish Republic began to charge a 15 cent (9 pence) per bag "plastax"
in March 2002, in an effort to curb the estimated one
million handed out each year. But Ireland weren't the first to
act to curb the environmental nuisance. Bombay actually banned
them in 2000 because they were blocking drains, exacerbating the
problems of flooding during the monsoon season.
Bangladesh has gone even further, passing regulations aimed at
banning polythene bags completely and re-introducing the more
traditional ( and eco-friendly) jute bag, thus giving the
country's ailing jute mills a much needed boost. The UK, with
around eight to ten billion plastic bags given away at
supermarket checkouts each year (costing the stores an estimated
£1bn), the environment minister, Michael Meacher, is seriously
considering following the Irish example and has called for a
report on how effective the Irish solution has been. Meacher has
also muted the idea of introducing a uniformed force of
"environmental wardens". They would patrol local
communities and have the power to take names and addresses and
impose fines on people caught dropping litter, spraying graffiti
or allowing their dogs to foul the pavement - a pet hate of my
own (no pun intended).
Now, do you really NEED to own a scaffolding tower, a chain-saw, a
carpet shampooing machine or an industrial-sized drill? If you need to
use an expensive item, but you know that you'll use it only on
rare occasions, try renting it rather than buying one. It's a
lot cheaper and you won't have to find a place to store it for
months or years after you've used it.
When you need a new ink-jet or toner cartridge, buy one of the ones
that have been recycled rather than the propriety brands from
the major printer manufacturers. You'll be doing the World a
service and saving money into the bargain. In energy terms, it
takes the burning of about 3.5 litres of oil to manufacture a
toner cartridge, but only one litre to recondition and refill a
used one. Personally, I've
become very careful about printing in colour; unless it's
essential, it gets printed in a grey-scale draft mode to reduce
my ink usage and I use both sides of the sheets to cut down on
Do you really
need to replace your two year old PC with the latest, fastest
model. If your computer seems to be slow it probably needs
re-formatting (after backing up your important data and
programmes of course). For today's heavy duty programmes 256 Mbytes
of RAM is recommended, but why spend £1,000 plus if that's all
it needs? Why not just treat it to some extra memory (cost of
this upgrade is less than £100)? You won't believe how much
faster these two tips can make your PC run.
How much of what you purchase comes in packaging. Just think
about the food you buy from the supermarket. All of those
plastic trays and milk bottles.
Personally, I find all those plastic trays ideal for starting
off garden plants and vegetables from seeds and cuttings. Even
the plastic milk and soft drinks bottles can be used with their
tops cut off and those tops make useful funnels. Back in the
1980's, when I did a lot of boating on the River Thames, I used
to cut the bottoms off two or four pint milk bottles at a 45º
angle and these made really useful boat bailers.
Glass jars and their lids can be cleaned and used for
home-made pickles, chutneys, jams and preserves, as well as for storing
all your screws, fuses, paperclips, etc.
person's "Trash" is another person's
"Treasure". Just because you don't use an item any
more is no good reason to throw it away. Consider selling it at
a car-boot sale or give it to a charity shop so that someone
else can have the chance to get some more use out of it.
One way everyone can help do their bit is to become conscientious
recyclers. More than 60% of the average household dustbin holds
materials that can be recycled, but end up in expensive and
ecologically unsound land fill sites. Most towns now have
comprehensive recycling facilities situated in car parks, at the
supermarkets or at the council refuse centres.
In the UK we currently recycle:
Unfortunately, the UK is far from the most recycling conscious
country in the World today:
- 90% of the ten million lead car batteries we use each year
- 66% of lead, 43% of aluminium, 38% of copper and 39% of
- Nearly half of our old engine oil, but 45% is unaccounted for
- 38% of paper which saves 15 average-size trees per tonne
of paper produced
- 22% of the six billion glass containers we use each year
- Only 7% of plastic
Time for a culture change!
In November 2002 the UK Government produced a report on tackling waste
Not, Want Not), which
recommend that households should be charged for the amount of rubbish
that they put out for the bin-men each week. It also recommended
that Landfill Tax (that's a tax applied to waste from commercial
and industrial sources) be increased from it's current rate
(£13 per tonne) to £35 in the short to medium term.
However, a 2002 DEFRA commissioned report came to the
conclusion that this is not significantly effecting a reduction
in trade waste to landfill and that the Government should be
looking at setting the figure £15 to £20 per tonne higher.
In December 2003 the Government reported figures that showed
that nine out of ten authorities were reporting an increase in
recycling and composting since 2001-2, But that only a 20% of
local authorities have reached their 2003-4 targets.
In 2002 Tony Juniper, director-designate of Friends of the Earth,
said: "The government must have the courage to
do this. We need a carrot and stick approach. Simply charging
people without doing anything else does not work, but neither
does just encouraging people to recycle either. It is time that
some of the people who are very wasteful paid a penalty because
lots of people have to put up with blighted lives living next to
Blake Lee-Harwood of Greenpeace said: "The government is
walking a policy tightrope over this. It is a good idea provided
there is a recycling service to every home. It also needs to be
policed well or it could become a fly-tipper's charter."
The following links will take you to the
various recycling pages on the site: