Recycling moves up a gear

The manner in which Irish people have embraced recycling is a notable environmental success story, writes Donal Hickey

Recycling moves up a gear

Over a third of all household waste is recycled here and we are ranked joint third in Europe for reducing the amount of rubbish being dumped in the old-fashioned way.

We still have some distance to travel to meet EU targets on, for example, recycling batteries and disposing of end-of-life vehicles. However, if incentives such as free-of-charge recycling for the general public continue to be given much further progress can be made.

Waste separation has become a ritual. People regularly take glass bottles, newspapers, plastic, food and drink cans and cardboard to skips, with no disposal charges.

However, some councils are now starting to charge, with Kerry County Council last week introducing charges for plastic and newspaper recycling, following a huge cut in a grant from the Department of the Environment. This is a seen as a negative move, amid claims it will lead to more illegal dumping.

Ireland now has one of the highest levels of newsprint recycling in the world. Surveys by the Green Press Partnership show upwards of 90% of our newspapers and magazines are being recycled, up from 28% in 2002.

Credit goes to the public, retailers and the newspaper industry for taking whole copy returns of unsold papers, rather than a clipping of the masthead as was the practice. Newsprint can be recycled several times and can also be made into other products like tissues.

Paper in general is highly recyclable and, in the US, about a third of all paper products are made of recycled paper. The used paper can be turned into a wide range of things including egg cartons, animal bedding and even bank notes. We’re told that recycling a tonne of paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water and 463 gallons of oil.

The rate of plastic recycling here is currently around 40%, according to the EPA, so there’s lots of room for improvement. Plastic is made from crude oil and research shows recycling saves two-thirds of the energy needed to produce plastic from raw materials.

Used plastic can also be turned into a variety of products such as raincoats, footballs, toys and garden furniture. Twenty-seven recycled soft drink bottles can make one fleece jacket. Experience has shown that if people can save money by reducing waste going to landfill through recycling, they will go for it. As we’ve become accustomed to free recycling, any charges could be a disincentive.

A long-time campaigner on such issues, Independent Alliance councillor Michael Gleeson, of Killarney, has warned that the increased costs in staffing and dealing with further illegal dumping could result in an even greater expense to a local authority.

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