What’s in your waste stream?

The issue of where our waste is going is gaining ground as China refuses to take the world’s waste and burn it in a bid to clean up its own environment. Fair enough – the idea of exporting one’s refuse to cause environmental problems in another country is a bad one that should go the way of child labour and human trafficking. People should work every day on getting rid of it domestically, not exporting the problem.

Here in the UK, there is a recycling scheme, and it is dependent on the council. Some do a better job than others. My recycling here in the south is picked up once a week and separated into food waste, plastic waste, and non-recyclable waste. Which appears to be quite a high standard. Where my mother-in-law lives up north, the council has given up on food waste collection because of low compliance with separation.

Now, the anaerobic digestion industry wants household food waste. To them, it is valuable feedstock for the digesters and biogas plants. When you think that your food waste could become useful fertiliser and biogas, it seems almost criminal to be throwing this away and sending it to be incinerated.

Another issue coming to the fore this week is plastic waste. Britain disposes of enough single-use plastic waste in a year to fill the Albert Hall 1,000 times, the Prime Minister said in a speech recently. The plastic tides are no longer just in remote parts of the Pacific Ocean, they are here in developed countries. It is our waste coming home.

This is why I applaud UK supermarket Iceland’s move to go plastic-free with its own brand products by 2023. While there will be a scramble to produce packaging that offers the same protection without the plastic, it is a step in the right direction. And let’s make the plastics we use easier to recycle, while we’re at it.

None of this is easy, but we have solved problems like this before. In 1894, the Times of London predicted that every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure, due to the more than 50,000 horses transporting people and goods around the city every day. And every other major city in the world was suffering the same seemingly insurmountable problem.

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