Have you ever spent a long time staring at the coloured bins wondering where your everything should go? Wondering if someone is judging your bin choice? Well good, because recycling is important.
The global population is rapidly increasing and our lifestyles generate huge amounts of waste. In the UK, an average person generates around 413kg of waste every single year. The waste produced in this country within less than two hours could fill the Royal Albert Hall. Managing this wastefulness can be done through the three Rs: Reducing, Reusing and Recycling. These are listed in order of importance, but for now, this article will focus on the final R: Recycling. A lot of recyclable material is disposed of in general waste bins. This is a shame as simply disposing of rubbish in landfill sites is incredibly harmful to the environment and translates to a loss of resources. Throwing away potentially recyclable waste is like throwing energy away. Recycling one tin can, for example, would give the equivalent energy to powering a TV for three hours! Recycling takes little effort and it goes a long way.
This is why we are nudged to recycle, but we’re often not told how to do it properly. At Imperial, for example, there are excellent recycling facilities across all campuses and halls. But lack of clarity when it comes to ‘what goes where’ causes a very real loss of efficiency. We’ve all been there: “where should I throw my tea bag? Should I empty the contents into food waste and throw the bag in paper? What is the meaning of life?” So we just either guess or throw it into general waste to be safe. But in fact there are clear guidelines and dos and don’ts when it comes to recycling. (For the record, most tea bags can simply be thrown in the food waste as the bags are biodegradable.)
First of all, plastic bags: Do not throw these in dry mixed recycling! Not all plastics can be easily recycled. Only hard plastics go in the green dry mixed recycling bins. These include things like plastic bottles, tubs and trays. Plastics often have a category, which is shown on them. Then we have pizza boxes: Greasy pizza boxes should not be recycled with paper, and can make a whole batch of paper and carton non-recyclable. On a related note, you should clean any food container you throw into recycling. It does take more effort, but it cannot be recycled if you don't, so the extra effort goes a long way.
Another helpful thing you can do is remove the caps from plastic bottles before throwing them in the dry mixed recycling. Caps and bottles are made of different plastics, and separating them makes life a lot easier for recycling plants. But now for something that will save you time! Although some people think it is necessary, you do not have to remove labels from food containers before recycling them.
When it comes to glass, not all is recyclable. Things like window glass or glass laboratory equipment should not be thrown in the red bin. The same thing goes for packaging made out of paper – paper cups or cartons that are waxed should not go in the red bin. Paper towels and napkins should also not be recycled, even though they're mare made out of paper. And if you don’t know what to do with a particular waste item like a nappy, some old tights or that Celine Dion CD you got last Christmas, that’s okay (all of the above are recyclable FYI). Simply not knowing where to put waste items is more common than you think. Looking it up online is always a good idea, and if not, many items actually have recycling instructions on them. For items that are trickier to recycle such as aerosols or batteries, there are online resources such as Imperial College’s online waste directory, which give instructions of how to dispose of them.
Many facilities have posters that detail what gets recycled where (Imperial will also be adopting this measure soon). Once you learn what goes where you will see recycling is not that hard! By implementing these small changes, recycling can be made much more efficient. By taking these ‘hacks’ and applying them at home we become even more efficient. London is presently one of the worst recyclers in the UK. Countrywide, the UK’s recycling rate for household waste has gone down recently bringing us further from the EU’s goal to recycle 50% of waste. Part of the responsibility to make this country more sustainable lies with those living in it. It is our responsibility to recycle well and efficiently to ensure a brighter future for our planet. If recycling is not enough for you and you want to make a bigger change come and join us in ESoc and participate in our recycling campaign.