The government is committed to reducing the amount of waste and has set targets for waste reduction. A new strategy for cutting waste was published in 2007 looking for at least 40 per cent of household waste to be recycled or composted by 2010, rising to 50 per cent by 2020.
Local authorities are responsible for waste disposal and the government has introduced legislative targets for local authorities. The Municipal Waste Management Statistics for 2008/9 show that the total amount of municipal waste is decreasing with an increase in the proportion of municipal waste being recycled or composted, increasing to 37.6 per cent in 2008/09, up by 3 per cent on 2007/08. For information on individual local authorities see WasteDataFlow.
Wastewatch estimated that at least half of the contents of our dustbins could potentially be recycled. In addition, we could compost the 20% of vegetable peelings and other organic waste that we throw away. Despite this potential to recycle or compost around 60% – 70% of our waste, we are only recycling or composting 12%. A total of 80% of municipal waste is landfilled and 8% is incinerated to produce energy.
The Women’s Environment Network waste prevention campaign focuses on preventing waste at source, rather than recycling. They have developed and promote a wide range of waste-avoiding goods and services such as composting, refills, repair shops, reduced packaging and leasing schemes.
Recycling is only one aspect of waste reduction. There are other steps which can be taken. Only recycle things if you are sure they cannot be repaired or reused.
- Don’t buy things you don’t need.
- Avoid disposable products, designed to be thrown away.
- Don’t buy over packaged goods.
- Buy things that are well made and will last.
- Buy things in returnable containers – and return the containers once empty.
- Concentrated products give you more active ingredient but make sure you do not use too much – follow the instructions.
- Buying in bulk, if you have the money and storage space and need the goods, reduces the amount of packaging.
- Try to avoid buying over packaged goods. Some packaging is useful, protecting the contents, providing somewhere to print information about the product and making it easier for shopkeepers to handle.
- Taking your own shopping bag means you don’t need to use plastic carrier bags.
- Disposable nappies are bulky and difficult to dispose of. Try using reusable washable nappies instead. See the Green Choices baby section.
- Using rechargeable batteries and recharging electrical appliances will save on batteries.
- The Mailing Preference Service reduces the amount of junk mail you will receive.
- For some products refill packs can be bought, which use less packaging.
Lots of things can be reused. If you can’t reuse them yourself try to find someone else who can.
- Jam-jars and bottles: if you don’t make jam/marmalade/preserves/wine find someone who does. They can also be used for storing all manner of things – but make sure they are properly labelled.
- Plastic carrier bags can be reused several times as shopping bags, can be used to take items to be reused/recycled, and can be used as bin liners.
- Old clothes, books, toys, unwanted gifts and household goods are easy to reuse: give them to a jumble sale or a charity shop.
- Envelopes can be reused with a reuse label (plain or printed) or can be used as scrap paper.
Any items, especially electrical items, can be repaired. There are still specialist repair shops though these may not be easy to find. In some places special schemes have been set up which create work for people by collecting and refurbishing second-hand electrical equipment and furniture.
If you have things which cannot be reused, repaired or recycled please dispose of them carefully. Do not throw garden and household chemicals, or paint, or engine oil, down the drain. Don’t use the toilet to dispose of waste. If in doubt about how to dispose safely of something, contact your local authority waste disposal department.