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It’s All About Recycling

20 September 2021

7 mins

Welcome to Recycling Week, my name is Louis and I work for your Universities waste management provider, Enva. My Role within Enva is to provide customer Engagement for the Universities. The purpose of this engagement is to help increase understanding of sustainability best practice. That could come in a lot of different forms, presentations, training or, in this case, a blog. Speaking of blogs. This is the second part of this series focusing on the waste hierarchy.

If you missed the Zero Waste Week post on reduction and reuse don’t worry, you can find it here.

Recycling week runs from the 20th – 26th of September and this year marks the week’s eighteenth birthday.

Recycling week is special because it is the one week per year retailers, brands, waste management companies, trade associations, governments and the media come together to achieve one goal: to galvanise the public into recycling more of the right things, more often.

The theme this year focuses on the Climate Crisis.

For many of us, the past year’s events have reduced opportunities to make a difference. A lot has happened that we have no control over, but the climate crisis is something we can impact every day.

Just by making small changes to our day to day lives we can help make a significant difference in the amount of waste we produce, some of which ends up in landfill. Following the same format as the previous instalment in this blog series, the goal is going to be to identify small changes that can be made that would make a big difference. This might mean that it makes recycling easier or more efficient, or it might help you improve the overall amount of waste that you can recycle.

Of course, you can:

How many aluminium cans do you use a week? Think about it, that’s your fizzy drinks. That’s your small tuna cans, sardine cans. Finally (and without any judgement!) it’s also your beer cans.

Do you make sure you recycle all your cans?

Aluminium is the most valuable thing in your recycling because of its recyclability, and because aluminium cans recycle without any loss of quality. Currently close to 70% of the aluminium cans we use globally are recycled, which is 113,200 cans per minute!

However, as you can see from those figures, we throw away a vast number of cans. That means that the 30% we aren’t recycling causes a massive issue.  For example, if we recycled all our aluminium cans in the UK, we would need fourteen million fewer dustbins. On top of that, when a can does end up in landfill it stays there for 500 years before it oxidises. Finally, from an energy perspective, to recycle one can saves the same amount of energy it takes to power a television for three hours. Aluminium cans are one of the easiest materials to recycle, all you need to do is make sure it’s completely empty and pop it in any mixed recycling bin or can bin around campus.

Be better with batteries:

Most people have batteries powering something in every room of their house. Everything from the television remote in the lounge to the weighing scales in your bathroom are likely to be battery powered. However, unlike most waste streams batteries can’t be recycled via your everyday recycling bin. Thankfully though, batteries are still very much recyclable.  To recycle batteries, it’s important to find “battery bins”. Most buildings have a battery bin in the foyer or reception which make it easier to recycle your used batteries.

Recycling batteries in the correct bin is extremely important because of dangers when batteries start to degrade. Depending on the type of battery, they can contain various dangerous chemicals such as lead, cadmium, zinc, lithium and even mercury. Batteries are the most common cause of fires at waste and recycling sorting facilities, and when these batteries rot away in landfill it is common for these chemicals to begin to leak into the ground. This can cause water and soil pollution. Each battery is believed to take over 100 years to decompose in landfill.

Over the last two years the UK has failed to meet its recycling target of 45% for the previous two years. According to “Recycle More” the U.K throws away 600 million batteries per year.

Recycling your batteries properly is one of the easiest ways to begin making a positive difference!

The plastic bottle problem:

It goes without saying that in the U.K we like a fizzy drink. In British culture a fizzy drink, a packet of crisps and a sandwich is a staple of what lunch on the go might look like. In theory, the drink element of this shouldn’t be an issue. The most recyclable element of your “lunch on the go” is usually the plastic bottle. If the bottle is empty it should be able to be put in any standard recycling bin without issue. Sadly, a lot of them aren’t.

The government reported that we go through 14 billion plastic bottles per year. Unfortunately, we aren’t keeping up with many other developed countries when it comes to recycling these bottles. Currently we recycle around 70% of those plastic bottles. This leaves around four billion plastic bottles that are not recycled every year. According to parliamentary publications, we also litter around 700,000 plastic bottles daily. This has a devastating impact on both our natural habitats and our human well-being which has led parliament to say that the use of plastic bottles is no longer a recycling nor an environmental issue but a social issue that leads to indirect taxpayer costs. 

Less contamination yields more appreciation:

One of the biggest issues encountered when working in waste management is waste contamination.

In its purest form waste contamination is putting anything into your waste stream that shouldn’t be there.  For instance, aluminium cans are perfectly fine to be recycled, however if thrown away with liquid in them that will contaminate the rest of the waste within that container, such as paper and card. Fluids even lessen the value of recyclable plastic and metal. This is a massive issue as it results in extra work for our waste segregation team and likely has a result of recycling being missed which lessens the overall sustainability of the system.

In some cases, entire bales of recyclable waste will be rejected from recycling companies due to contamination.

The two leading causes of contamination in an academic setting are disposable coffee cups and food waste.

Unfortunately, most disposable coffee cups are not recyclable. However, because some are recyclable under certain circumstances, so the topic remains cloudy with conflicting sources of information. To help with this issue the University of Loughborough have provided cup bins. The bins feed into the general waste stream.  This waste is all collected so as with all containers it is very important that the disposable cups are only disposed of when they are completely empty.

One of the key reasons it Is important to separate food waste is the contamination of waste. Your left-over soup will contaminate your recycling the same way your left-over coffee would. Food waste is collected on a different vehicle to your General waste and your recyclable waste. Putting food waste in your General waste bin will not only contaminate any recycling we might be able to salvage in general waste but it will also contaminate the recycling on the same vehicle.  

To prevent waste contamination here at Enva we have come up with a few easy tips to help with the contamination issue.

  1. Keep your recycling clean and dry.
  2. Make sure your waste goes in the right place (read the label on the bin!).
  3. If in doubt, leave it out
Sustainably Speaking

Loughborough University Sustainability Blog

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