Dr Julia Meaton

Sustainability expert

Sustainability expert Dr Julia Meaton offers five tips on recycling as part of National Recycle Week.

“Recycling is a way that everyone can contribute to the welfare of our environment and many people enthusiastically separate their waste, and feel, quite rightly, that they are doing their bit.  Despite this the UK’s performance is under par – only 44.6% of household waste is recycled against the EU target of 50%.  This is partly due to confusing recycling policies (e.g. the 39 rules for recycling plastic), the challenges of multi-occupancy housing, the impacts of social deprivation and the lack of any real incentivising or punitive policies.

Because of these challenges and broader concerns of over-consumption, new thinking on waste management puts less emphasis on recycling and more on consumption choices and behaviours.  The new mantra is Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot.  This week - National Recycle Week – check out how you can put this into action.

Refuse: If you are offered a plastic cup, or a plastic straw, refuse and suggest the outlet finds alternatives.  If enough people do this, a message will get through and businesses should respond.  Refuse to buy products that have significant negative environmental impacts, for example balloons!  These single use novelty products have such immense impact that they really should be avoided – see https://balloonsblow.org/.

Reduce: Apparently an average American household has 300,000 items.  Does anyone need that much stuff?!  Reduce means buying less, or even better, buying less with less packaging.  A good, simple example of the latter would be to buy solid shampoo bars and avoid all the plastic containers that currently litter your bathroom.

Reuse: Coffee cups are big news here at the University of Huddersfield, so it’s a great time to buy a reusable cup instead of adding your disposable one to the 100,000,000,000 that end up in landfill in the UK every year.

Recycle: Once we have bought less and reused what we have, we need to think about how we can recycle things that we no longer need.  This might mean separating it into the right container for the refuse collectors, but it might also mean giving it to charity shops, selling it on online auction sites or making it into new things (a reuse too!).

Rot: Finally, when all other waste management possibilities are inappropriate, items should be composted – ideally in your own individual compost bin, so that transport costs are minimised, and so you (and your home grown vegetables) can benefit from your own waste!

Some people might feel this new thinking evokes notions of austerity and a return to the dark ages of restricted choice and limited retail opportunities, but that is not necessarily the case.  These different, more sustainable choices – e.g. the best washable make-up wipes, the funkiest reusable lunchboxes, the smartest wooden or bamboo toothbrushes – offer even the most enthusiastic consumers fantastic new retail opportunities.

As demand increases for biodegradable and plastic-free everyday items, creative entrepreneurial engineers will meet that demand and it won’t be long before sustainable balloons are back on party shopping lists.”

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