Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle

Having just read Petes blog post on recycling I thought I would throw in my tuppence worth, not that Petes observation surprises me, on the contrary its just another example of what really happens behind the facade that many of us hide behind, fooling ourselves that we are doing our bit for the environment by separating our waste. How many of you actually thought that those lovingly sorted piles of rubbish stayed that way as they made there happy journey to the appropriate specialist recycling factory to be turned into something that may have worth once again. The sad fact is that unless it has some value and can be treated and traded as a commodity then there is little chance it will stay in its allotted pile and will simply end up in landfill or be incinerated.

Stonehead made a similar observation to Pete and added further posts to explain the issue in more detail (just search his blog for recycle), and one of the points I think he makes best is that if we all followed the mantra ‘refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle’ we might not create so much waste in the first place. He goes on to point out that the refuse part of the mantra seems to have been dropped and the emphasis is on recycle rather than reduce; after all if we refused and reduced how would we keep the economy in growth!

And that to me seems to be the problem, the emphasis is always on growth and ever increasing targets, making more and more money so that we can spend it on more and more things in the blinkered belief that it will make us happier, but it’s only a temporary fix and we are destined to be disappointed when the next model is released or your colleague buys one that is better and you are left with an inferior product.

But I’ll try not to get on my soapbox because its a sentiment that is echoed all too often, just read the BBC website for a great example of our excess published today, or take it even further and read this article from last year I could also point you to a dozen other websites that take the matter seriously and you could spend the best part of your life just reading about how the planet cannot sustain the growth that business needs to survive, but I doubt it would stop the rot; even if you were better informed.

No instead of that I’ll ask a question that has gnawed away at me for a little while now, even more so as I have walked the dogs and I have too much time to think, and it goes back to the original theme of Petes post about the recycling of plastic bottles. Why does the world buy bottled water? Of course many parts of the world don’t have access to clean,safe drinking water, but in most parts of the western world and most definitely in the UK we have mains drinking water, or council pop as we used to call it, out of the tap . We all pay for it and yet refuse to drink it, reserving it for washing and flushing. It just doesn’t make sense to me, to go to Tesco, or whoever your favourite retailer happens to be, and give them your hard earned cash for yet another plastic bottle full of something that no doubt came from a bigger industrial sized tap with a bottling plant attached. Only to then fill half of your rubbish bin with the empty plastic bottles!

Of course in the past the only bottled water available came in ornate and embossed glass bottles and generally from natural sources, and if you subscribed to this lifestyle you had to be able to afford it. And that just the point, the marketing boys jumped in and told the masses that you too could live the life of the rich and famous and drink water from a bottle, omitting the facts about the environmental damage as only marketing people can, and sold a whole continent into drinking water out of plastic! I wonder how much of the plastic waste in the world is down to bottled water?

Out of interest I thought I would check on the environmental impacts of glass and plastic, to see if one was better than the other and whilst you might think the obvious answer if glass it’s not that simple; although it does have many advantages. Glass can be recycled indefinitely and at worst when it eventually gets broken down and used as aggregate it is at least inert; after all it’s just melted sand. It also preserves food better and does not leach chemicals and I’ve even read in the past that you can store water in glass bottles for many years.

Plastic on the other hand can only be down-cycled, i.e its chemical integrity deteriorates with each stage of recycling and a bottle will never be a bottle again; it will probably end up as a chair or a plastic casing for a TV and it’s useful life is unlikely to make it past that. It also has a tendency to leach chemicals over time and if you place your plastic bottles too close to other chemicals there is a good chance that they will taint the contents.

So it sounds simple, glass is the better option? Well yes, unless you count the cost in money; once you look at the transportation cost of a much heavier glass bottle, in the globalised market that we live in, coupled with our desire to have it all at the lowest possible monetary cost, the answer is plastic!

Of course if we go back in time, or move to Poland, business is still run at a (relatively) local level; the soft drinks firms and breweries still work with glass and the good old fashioned deposit system, compelling you to go back with your empties, turns the tables on plastic once again. Because if a glass bottle is reused its cost reduces; not only environmentally but monetarily, and there is no getting away from the fact that beer tastes so much better from a bottle 🙂

My only hope is that as the worlds oil reserves deplete and the cost of producing plastic (dervived from oil) increases, then we will have no option but to return to glass.

As you may imagine I could go on, but I think I’ve probably exhausted you if you got this far; but I will leave you with one final observation as I drink my Tatra beer out of a returnable glass bottle at a cost of 1.90Pln (38p,$0.65, €.049) If I go to Tescos (yea right) then I would pay almost double that for a can of Carlsberg (or any choice of tinned European beer)

Thankfully beer doesn’t come in plastic bottles yet, or there would be a real environmental disaster!!

Author: Eddy Winko

Left the rat race to live a less hectic and harmful life. From the building of a straw bale house to the composting toilet diaries; read my blog

7 thoughts on “Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle”

  1. Great stuff Eddy, I saw all the BBC reports about waste food tonight, and Julie and I were just talking about it. I do not often take the ‘get one free’ options, or buy the ‘extra one at half price’. There are only two of us, so our options would be to eat too much, or throw it away. Time for a complete re-think of the whole system.

    1. As world food prices increase due to climate disruption I hope people will rethink how they buy products and cut down on waste. But it’s not just food; its societies desire to have everything they want rather than what they actually need.

  2. I find it astonishing to go to our local “recycling” depots and peer into the electronics containers. There are a few ancient televisions, radios, computers and hi-fi systems (for ancient, read pre-2000) but most of the discards are only two or three years old. There are big flatscreen televisions, decent spec computers, iPod docks and plastic crates full of recent mobile phones. All discarded because it’s “out of date” or “out of fashion”.

    Meanwhile, we’ve only just replaced our CRT television as it was starting to develop problems at 18 years of age. We still have an excellent original iMac, although it can’t cope with the modern internet and so is a word processor/retro games machine. Our boys had an original PlayStation until a fortnight ago, when it finally died. And my early 1960s MagiMix is still going strong. Why discard things that are still useable and useful?

    I know big business relies on persuading people to replace everything within a year or two of buying it, but it’s way out of hand now. Keeping things for even twice as long would cut waste by a huge amount.

    1. It’s such a big subject and I have read a number of your well informed posts on the matter. I just get so frustrated that as an individual there seems to be very little that I can do, other than drop out of a society that I have little respect for and try and make my own way through life causing as little damage possible.
      Unfortunately it will be the next generation that will have the real mess to clean up and that may well be the reason why we fail to address the problem collectively. After all why worry about something that will happen after we are dead!

  3. Living out here we have no choice but to recycle as much as possible, everything is so expensive as it has to be shipped here, so we consider each item carefully before throwing it away. The amount of plastic litter in the marine environment along the shores here is disgusting, especially after storms. A walk along the storm beach either to do a clean up or harvest useful items that have been washed in (e.g. fish boxes to grow things in, old fishing nets and ropes that can be re-used) is a regular event for us. Studies have found that in the North Sea 95% of fulmars, pelagic seabirds, have plastic in their stomachs and it is not an uncommon cause of death, with large amounts being found in carcasses. Must stop now before this develops into a rant….

    1. Grrrrrrr. I’m normally a placid person, but it does make the blood boil. I must stop thinking about it all and post something else or the whole direction of this blog could change 🙂

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