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Recycling - a few home truths

I work for a Re-use / Recycling organisation that does it's best to see that the amount of waste going to landfill is kept to a minimum - but it's not always possible.

I've lost count of how many times people have contacted us saying things like "we have an armchair we don't need anymore. it's lost one of it's legs, the springs have gone, and the upholstery is torn - but i'm sure a homeless person would be grateful for it." quite where they think a homeless person would keep a large item of furniture, or how we would deliver it to them is entirely besides the point - there are strict regulations concerning fit for use and it is illegal to pass on any soft furnishings that don't have the correct fire retardant labels on.

"I thought you recycled things - can't you recycle it?" is invariably the next reply.

Now there lies a tale for the telling. the general public firmly believe that anything can be recycled, without really knowing what recycled means. We (i mean all us avid recyclers) are partly to blame for this, because for decades we've been trying to convince people that recycling is easy and efficient. it isn't.

let me use a simple analogy. take cake. people have known how to make cake for thousands of years - it is remarkably easy. you mix a bit of flour with milk (or water), an egg, and a knob of butter, add maybe a little salt or sugar, mix it all up, and stick it in an oven. so simple.

but in all the thousands of years we have been making cakes, nobody has yet found a way to turn a stale leftover cake into an egg, a heap of flour, and a cup of milk. even with our modern technology - it cant be done.

its pretty much the same with recycling. the idea that you can tip a pile of rubbish into a big hopper, and get a neat line of raw materials come out the other end is a complete myth. but that is what people honestly think happens.

a lot of recycling is a long and messy job that has to be done by hand - and even then the usable end product has very little use or value much of the time. the worn material covering a sofa or chair has no use, the stuffing is nothing but potentially harmful or hazardous waste, and the wood has been contaminated by preservatives and varnishes, so has no use either.

not only that, but in many cases, whoever is doing this recycling is exposing themselves to harmful substances. there is a big issue with monitors and televisions being sent to third world countries for recycling, where they are causing serious health problems to the people in the sweat shops that do it.

don't get me wrong, i'm not saying we shouldn't try to do more or find solutions to the problems - but i think we have to accept that recycling is not a magic solution to the problems of too much waste. it is a fact that in some cases, recycling is actually doing more harm to the environment than using virgin materials. in most cases, recycling is better than landfilling, or incineration, but direct re-use is better where possible, and best of all is not creating waste in the first place - downsize.

one last word to all those people who say "I'm getting a new carpet, and i'd rather my old one go to a good cause than just tip it." if you really want to help a good cause, and help the environment - keep the old carpet and donate the money you were going to spend on the new one to the charity of your choice. we are all responsible for the waste we produce, and there is no magic recycling machine that takes away our responsibility.

Very good post.

You see a lot of that on freecycle Confused

Time society addressed the consumer/throwaway culture.

Well I guess i would add this

1) re-use (with repair if necessary) is always better than recycling - freecycle and other groups can help with this.

2) always bear in mind their are lots of creative ways to re-use stuff

3) If you want to be ethical DON'T BUY stuff that is impossible or hard to recycle. Choose the recyclable option

though i can't unmake a stale cake or bread into and flour etc - i can use it to make groundbait for fishing etc. (though it would have been better not to make cake i didn't plan to eat in the first place) - this isn' so much rcycle or re-use but a "second use". Second use is an important option that is not given enough attention.
Green Man

Thanks gnome. Good points well made.

yes....well said.

I pester my council to emphasize that REDUCE and REUSE come before RECYCLE in the mantra for very good reason, but the only message they seem to publicize is RECYCLE.
wellington womble

Of course, the other issue is there needs to be a market for re-cyled products. So buy recyled, if you can't do without (reduce) or get it secondhand (reuse)!
Green Man

Property shows on T.V. have been responsible for the trend to have immaculate, coordinated homes. If the couch does not go with new curtains in today's shade, out goes the couch whether it is worn or not. I was taught to decorate a home by choosing the item that was the most expensive and going to be there for years first, then matching fabrics and decor with that so that the room will last for a long time without the need to re-furnish. Surely I'm not the only one to have grown up with make do and mend parents/grandparents?

Some great points .Recycling, good though it is, is starting at the wrong end of the purchase chain really. The message of thinking more about what we buy, needs to get out there more. Our council isn't doing too badly in this respect but it takes time to change attitudes .

though i can't unmake a stale cake or bread into and flour etc - i can use it to make groundbait for fishing etc. (though it would have been better not to make cake i didn't plan to eat in the first place) - this isn' so much rcycle or re-use but a "second use". Second use is an important option that is not given enough attention.

nice use of lateral thinking Mark. i am constantly trying to think along those lines. if it cant be stripped for raw product, and can't serve its original use, what can it be used for? i'm often making clothes out of old curtains or sheets. our dream is to have a resource centre for exactly this sort of thing - but the problem is the cost of storage space.

i like the WRAP slogan - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. recycling is a good idea, reuse is better, but it would be better for the environment all round if we didnt create the waste in the first place. Consumerism is still the lifeblood of Western civilisation, and that is what is killing the planet.

i remember one day spending the whole afternoon driving around the countryside in a transit to make scheduled collections, only to find the mattress we were picking up didnt have fire retardant labels, the suite had been given to someone else (if people want to help the environment, why dont they bother to ring us up when they know we are driving out to pick up something that is no longer available?), the fridge was broken, and the wardrobe was riddled with woodworm. we went back with a bedside table that we sold for 2. apart from the waste of time and effort, what good did all that do the environment?

A fine line between "waste and wasting".
Very good post............. all boils down to the value of the end product. Rolling Eyes
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