Go back six years in Ireland and we all took our discarded fridges, cookers, TV sets, deep fat fryers and other electrical goods to the dump where they were thrown into a deep hole along with other waste and eventually covered over.
Now however, the whole idea is to divert such goods away from dumps (landfills) and our first instinct is to hand back them back to a retailer when we go to buy a replacement.
Indeed, we’re among the best in Europe at doing this and are recycling almost twice as many electrical items as our neighbours in Britain, for example.
In just five years, we have brought the average electric recyclables to 9.5kg per person compared to the EU average of 5kg. At a time when there’s a lot of negativity about our overall performance on environmental matters this is a good news story.
Elizabeth O’Reilly, compliance manager with WEEE Ireland (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), says one of the main reasons for our success is that it has been made as easy as possible for people to recycle.
Firstly, people can bring back old goods to retailers when they are purchasing something new. Secondly, they can bring used goods to regular recycling centres and, thirdly, collection days are arranged in areas around the country where recycling facilities are not readily available.
Such collection days might take place only once a year, but at least they offer people a way of getting rid of items that might have be lying in garages, or sheds, for a long time. Ms O’Reilly also believes the general campaigns in recent years to encourage people become greener in their attitudes are helping and people are becoming ever more open to the general concept of recycling.
“We’re constantly trying to create awareness and to encourage the public to use whatever facilities are available to dispose of their used goods in an environmentally friendly manner,” she adds.
It’s also well to remember that if recycling targets weren’t achieved, fines would be imposed by the EU. WEEE has more than 500 members, including some top companies such as Dell, Phillips and Panasonic, representing nearly 80% of the electrical goods placed on the market.
The collected waste products are broken down into their component parts and sold on. Televisions and computer equipment are among the most common items recycled.
Some of the statistics built up over the past five years are quite mind-boggling. In that time, WEEE Ireland have collected enough TVs and monitors to go around the M50 motorway 14 times Enough large household appliances and fridge freezers have been collected to fill Croke Park 41 times.
Some10 million fluorescent lamps and energy savers have been collected since 2005. More than 33 million units have been collected, equal to over seven items for every man woman and child in Ireland.
This is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world and, in a throwaway society where things are no longer repaired, more electrical goods will have to be disposed of.
An indication of the public’s response to the collection days for recycled electrical goods can be gleaned from the huge turnout over two days in Ennis and Lahinch, Co Clare, recently. Almost 400 cars came to the collection points over the two days.
Hundreds of people turned up bringing mainly fridges, television sets and washing machines, as well as a large amount of smaller items and kitchen equipment such as toasters and kettles along with vacuum cleaners, driers, hair straighteners and batteries.
Joan Tarmey, environmental awareness officer with Clare County Council, said the amount of waste collected in Ennis and Lahinch was “significant”, stressing that the material was being properly treated and metals recovered, where possible.
Kerry also has a good record and topped the European Recycling Platform (ERP) recycling days in 2008.
This year, 74 tonnes of electrical waste, the biggest ever, has been collected in Kerry. Collection days have been provisionally fixed for Castleisland, on September 10, and Listowel, on September 11.
Cork people also respond in large numbers to recycling days around the city and county and there were collections on Saturday (August 21), in Midleton, Wilton and Mahon.
Many people also continue to use facilities at centres provided by Cork City Council and Cork County Council. Since January 2010, more than 200 tonnes of electrical waste has been collected over 10 Cork collection days.
The single largest WEEE Ireland collection day was held in the Marsh Road bring site, in Skibbereen, this August, generating nearly 75 tonnes of electrical waste and waste batteries.