What planet are you on?'s waste management expert, Dr. Brian Kelleher, an Analytical Chemistry/School Safety Adviser at DCU, explains how we can improve our waste management at home.
The programme has already highlighted the confusion we all have about domestic waste recycling. This is compounded by non-standardised rules and regulations that vary all over the country.
Recycle, recycle, recycle.
The three types of bins provided by most but not all waste companies are:
- General waste
- Recycling (plastics paper etc.)
- Organic or compost (kitchen/food waste)
The colours assigned to bins provided by waste companies often differ, a green bin in Dublin may be a blue bin elsewhere. Some areas do not provide brown bins for organic kitchen waste and there is a lot of confusion about charges.
One family on the programme are under the impression that if they diverted all of their brown bin organic waste to the general waste (black) bin, they would save money. Trying to get information from the waste companies (of which there are approximately 60 in Ireland) can be tricky but it's worth investing the time and effort to find out where you should be putting your waste.
Do not put organic kitchen waste in general waste bin
Putting organic kitchen waste in our general waste or recycling bin is a terrible waste and turns what should be a very valuable soil amendment into a nuisance that complicates recycling and requires more energy (carbon) to treat.
It results in the emission of carbon into the atmosphere with implications for climate (a lose-lose situation). If it is placed in the composting bin, (if you are provided with one), that carbon can be locked in soil where it improves soil quality and provides nutrients, a win-win situation.
Carbon is valuable, it is much more beneficial for us to lock (sequester) it in soil rather than add to the already dangerous amounts in the atmosphere.
Similarly, organic waste that ends up in the recycling bin will interfere with the recycling process, possibly resulting in the landfilling or incineration of materials that could have been recycled. Also, the carbon ends up in the atmosphere, not in soil.
Compost where you can
For those areas where no brown (organic) bin is provided, the only sustainable option is to try and compost kitchen waste. This may be difficult without a garden or backyard but not impossible.
Composting can seem a bit intimidating and its association with vermin is enough to turn many people off. There is a lot of good advice on how to produce good compost from domestic waste out there and also how to do it without attracting vermin.
I have been composting for a few years now, it definitely takes care of your kitchen waste in a carbon-neutral way but, as a keen but limited vegetable gardener, I have yet to produce anything like good compost! I am getting better though, and that is the enjoyable part.
Never ever burn your waste
Do not burn domestic waste The programme has unearthed some other interesting practices. The burning of domestic waste, in an open fire in a house is not a good idea. The temperatures reached in domestic fires are way too low (approximately 200℃) to break down toxic chemicals that may form or gasify during the combustion process.
At these temperatures there are a myriad of combustion products, including well-known dioxins that can form and be harmful to those in the house and their neighbours. I can understand the reasoning but the arguments against are far stronger:
- The toxic effects
- Combusted materials cannot be recycled and re-used.
- It results in more carbon in the atmosphere where it is harmful and less carbon where it could be beneficial.
- Plastic is made from oil. When we combust it we don't just waste this energy and carbon, we also waste the energy and carbon that was used to make the plastic in the first place….a double whammy!
- Unless the heat is turned into useable energy, carbon is simply squandered when we combust organic waste. That energy and carbon just dissipate into the atmosphere.
Drink filtered tap water
Another interesting practice on the programme was the rejection of tap water for drinking in favour of bottled water and the resultant generation of large quantities of used plastic bottles. This family have been very conscientious about recycling the plastic bottles and it results in extra visits to their local recycling centre.
I cannot verify or refute the concerns of the family (contradiction to Fiona?) here but if people are worried about tap water a good alternative would be to filter the water, the money saved on bottled water would easily offset the cost of a good filtration system.
Advice on recycling is not difficult to find, the information is out there. However, the programme has highlighted some of the reasons why it is much more complicated than it should be.
Without a doubt, regulation is required to standardise the whole domestic waste process so that the same, sensible rules apply everywhere and there is no ambiguity about what should go where.
Regulation on its own will not work, of course, it needs to be complemented with enthusiasm and a desire to minimise our personal contributions to environmental decline.
In the meantime, things you can do to improve your household waste management include:
- Ensure you're using the correct bins
- Read up on recycling rules
- Compost where you can
- Never burn your rubbish
- Ditch the plastic bottles and drink tap water instead
Watch What planet are you on? on RTÉ One.