All posts by Blaise

BACKYARD BURNING

Almost 73% of the dioxins emitted to air in Ireland came from the uncontrolled, low temperature burning of waste. This makes backyard burning of waste the single biggest source of dioxins released into the Irish environment.

BACKYARD BURNING – BUT IT IS WHAT WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE!…

If you are burning your waste at home, you need to STOP!

Many people in Ireland burn waste on their own property. The materials burned are varied and include paper, cardboard, textiles, timber, food, garden clippings, synthetics such as plastic and even glass, metal and household chemicals. This ‘backyard burning’, as it is known, is mistakenly seen as a cheap method of keeping waste out of already overflowing landfills and many presume that it is not harmful to the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Practically all uncontrolled low temperature burning of waste releases toxic pollutants directly into the air without treatment or filtering. This is one of the major sources of some pollutants impacting on air quality in Ireland today.

SURELY IT DOESN’T DO ANY HARM?…

If this is what you believe then you need to read on.

Uncontrolled, low temperature burning of municipal waste can impact on human health, food safety and the environment. In fact this uncontrolled “backyard burning” of municipal waste is far more damaging than previously thought.

Current research indicates that when municipal waste is burned, in piles in the open, in barrels or open pits, or in commercially available home incinerators, toxic pollutants are released into the air.

LANDFILL MANAGEMENT

Landfill sites are licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and inspected regularly to ensure that activities on site are compliant with licence conditions. Results of these inspections are made available to members of the public by contacting EPA headquarters.

Landfill operators are also required to monitor a number of parameters relating to the operation of the site such as landfill gas and leachate control systems and groundwater. These are reviewed at site inspections.

Waste that is collected for disposal at landfills may be taken directly to a landfill or may betransported to a transfer station for baling or repackaging with other waste into large vehicles before eventually being taken for disposal. Once at the landfill the vehicles are usually weighed and the weight and type of waste in each load is noted. This information helps to ensure effective management of the site and to minimise the potential for environmental pollution. After weighing, the vehicles are emptied into the area of the landfill that is being filled and all vehicle wheels are washed when leaving the site. Material is placed in a modern landfill on a cell by cell basis, as this makes it easier to control odours, litter and pests. At the end of each day, the deposited waste is covered with a material such as soil to limit the potential for pest infestation and littering of the surrounding areas. Other pest control measures can include keeping birds-of-prey on site to control birds and rodents.

LANDFILL

Landfill is the controlled deposit of waste to land and although it is the least preferred option in the waste hierarchy, it is an important part of the overall integrated waste management system being developed in Ireland.

Landfill remains the predominant waste management practice in Ireland. An estimated 6,438,085 tonnes of municipal waste was consigned to landfill in Ireland in 2004. In 2004, there were 34 authorised landfills operating in Ireland compared with 126 in 1998. This is indicative of the Government policy of reducing landfill numbers to a smaller network of state of the art facilities.

Each landfill is licensed to accept only certain types of waste. The types of waste that can be disposed of vary, from those that can accept only inert wastes such as bricks and concrete to those that can accept a wide range of wastes including household, commercial and industrial waste. Ireland does not at present have any landfills that take hazardous waste.

Overall, national policy aims to dramatically reduce our reliance on landfill, and challenging targets have been set for recycling and for the diversion of biodegradable waste away from landfill. The changing waste management practices arising from efforts to meet these targets will result in less waste being disposed to landfill, without at least some form of pre-treatment. Despite this, there will always be some material that cannot be recycled or managed in any other way and for which landfill represents the most environmental and cost effective means of disposal.

LANDFILL LEVY

The determination to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and to encourage recovery, recycling and reduction led to the introduction of the landfill levy in June 2002.

The levy has been introduced to ensure that the price of landfill waste disposal more closely reflects its environmental impact. The current levy is €15 per tonne but there are provisions which will allow this to be increased in the future.

BIOLOGICAL TREATMENT

WHAT IS BIOLOGICAL TREATMENT?

Materials that were once part of a living organism will slowly rot if the conditions are right. These are called “biodegradable” wastes. Composting and anaerobic digestion are methods of controlling (and speeding up) this decomposition process.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BIOLOGICALLY TREAT WASTE?

We have a major waste challenge in Ireland. We all produce too much waste – every Irish home produces over a tonne of waste each year. Biological Treatment, which includes processes such as composting and anaerobic digestion could be the first step to meeting this waste challenge.

Separating organic waste from dry recyclables (paper, card, plastic, etc.) is an important first step in the process of reducing Ireland’s dependence on landfills.

According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey, organic waste (i.e. food and garden waste) constitutes the single largest component of household waste, accounting for 36% of the total. When organic waste is mixed with other household waste, the combined waste becomes odourous, wet, and difficult to handle. Nor can it be recycled as the waste streams are mixed or contaminated. When organic waste goes into a landfill it begins to break down and creates methane (a significant greenhouse gas) and leachate (waste contaminated water), both of which require careful environmental management.

WHAT CAN WE RECYCLE?

Glass
Bottle banks are found in many supermarket car parks and local authority areas and usually have separate compartments for clear, green and brown glass. Blue glass can be put into the green bank and clear glass with coloured coatings can be put into the clear bank as the coating will burn off. The labels on bottles and jars will be removed during the recycling process, however remove as many plastic or metal rings and tops as possible. Only recycle bottles and jars – never light bulbs, window or sheet glass or Pyrex type dishes as these are made from a different type of glass.

Paper
Almost a quarter of all household waste and a half of all commercial waste in Ireland is paper. Newspapers, magazines, junkmail cardboard packaging can all be recycled either through kerbside collection or through local bring centres. Packaging such as milk and juice cartons cannot be recycled as paper as they have a plastic lining which would contaminate the process.

Aluminium and steel cans
Many local authorities have mixed can banks accepting both aluminium and steel cans, although some have aluminium-only banks as uncontaminated aluminium has a higher value. Try to crush drinks cans before recycling, either with a can crusher or by squashing them underfoot. .

Textiles
All charity shops accept unwanted clothing, which is then sold in charity shops, given to the homeless or sent abroad. Even damaged or un-wearable clothing can be converted into items such as wiping cloths, shredded for use as filling for items such as furniture or car insulation or rewoven into new yarn or fabric. If you deposit shoes, tie them together as they tend to go astray! Some local authorities provide separate textile collection at some of their bring centres.

Plastic
Plastic is a difficult material to recycle as there are many different types of plastic (often indicated by a number, or letters such as PET or PVC). The variation in plastic types means that different reprocessing techniques are required. The different types of plastic therefore need to be collected separately or sorted after collection, as reprocessors will specify which type of plastic they will accept. Plastic in household waste is often food packaging and therefore too contaminated to be recycled effectively.

Organic waste
Organic household waste is food and garden waste. Organic waste is a problem if sent to landfill, because it is impossible to separate out from other waste once mingled, and will rot producing methane, a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. The best way to dispose of organic waste is to compost it either through a centralised composting scheme or at home.

Electrical and electronic equipment
At the present time there are very few facilities for recycling household electrical or electronic waste although this is set to change with the introduction of the EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). Some local authorities have Recycling Centres that take large white goods and mobile phone recycling is now common around the country.
Batteries
Batteries are varied and complex, come in different shapes and types and are consequently very difficult to sort and recycle. Rechargeable nickel cadmium batteries do still contain hazardous metals and should be returned to the manufacturer where possible. A few local authorities provide facilities for recycling these, as well as lead acid car batteries, which may also be returned to garages. If you use rechargeable batteries look out for the new versions containing no mercury or cadmium.
Hazardous waste
Some household items are actually very harmful to the environment if thrown into the grey bin for landfilling. Keep household paint, make-up, nail varnish, medicines, oil, bulbs etc in a safe place and bring to the regular / periodic “Hazardous Household Waste Collection” organised by your local authority.

HOW TO START RECYCLING?

Your local authority is responsible for providing sites for recycling household waste. Most Local Authorities provide recycling banks at “bring sites” for recycling newspapers and magazines, aluminium cans, glass and textiles. Some also provide for a wider range of material. These sites may simply be a collection of recycling banks at a suitable location (where car parking is provided) or may be a dedicated “civic amenity site” or “household waste and recycling centre.
Some households may not be within easy walking distance of a recycling bank and you may need to use a car, with the associated energy and pollution implications. Try not to make a special car journey to recycle your waste, or better still, walk to the recycling banks!

Your local authority can direct to your nearest facility, or check out our list of Bring and Recycling Centres.
Local authorities may also provide kerbside collection schemes and some provide home composting bins for householders to compost their organic waste. A total of 35% of households now have some kind of kerbside collection scheme. Householders are provided with separate bins in addition to the normal black bag or wheeled bin provided for general rubbish. Clean, dry, separated materials for recycling such as paper, aluminium and plastic are placed in the containers which are then collected – either on the same day or a different day to the normal refuse collection. Kerbside schemes make it easy and convenient for householders to recycle, and reduce the need for separate journeys to the recycling centre. Successful schemes in many local authority areas have demonstrated that kerbside collection is an effective method of increasing recycling rates and diverting waste from disposal.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE COLLECTED MATERIAL?
After you put your waste materials in the recycling bank or container they are usually taken to a central depot where the materials are sorted, bulked up and baled for onward transportation. Usually, even if materials are separated fully by the householder, there is still some further sorting to be undertaken as there is likely to be a small amount of contamination with other materials. The depot is often a Materials Reclamation Facility (MRF). These may be “clean” MRFs or “dirty” MRFs.

Clean MRFs accept recyclables which have been separated from normal refuse (but they may arrive as a mixture of recyclables, for example, glass and cans). Dirty MRFs accept mixed rubbish (rather than separated recyclables) from households or businesses. The simplest sorting techniques at MRFs are manual, employing people to pick out materials from a raised belt. However, mechanical sorting systems have developed considerably over recent years, and continue to develop.

The bales are sent to reprocessors such as paper mills, glassmakers or plastic reprocessing plants where the material is processed for use in other applications or processed directly into a new product. In Ireland we send most of our waste abroad to be recycled as we have not yet developed many reprocessing facilities Some materials such as aluminium and glass can be recycled indefinitely, as the process does not affect their structure.. Other materials, such as paper, require a mixture of waste and raw material to manufacture a new product. With material such as plastic, the waste is converted into a granulate or pellet which is then used in the manufacture of a recycled or part-recycled plastic product.

WHAT IS RECYCLING?

RECYCLING
Recycling is the processing of waste products to provide the raw material to make new ones. When you take materials to a bring bank or  put them out for the local authority to collect, they have not at that point been recycled – although they have been collected for recycling. The recycling process as a whole is completed when we buy the products that have been made from the recycled materials.

WHY RECYCLE?
Recycling reduces the demand for raw materials. By recovering materials from old products we are removing or reducing the need to extract yet more raw materials from the earth. This is important because the vast majority of resources that we use in manufacturing products and providing services cannot be replaced. The use of these resources cannot go on indefinitely – we would run out.

Recycling means that we also avoid many of the additional environmental impacts associated with extracting the new resources, manufacturing and distributing the goods. Activities such as mining, quarrying and logging can be environmentally destructive, damaging the natural environment and local wildlife habitats. The processing and transportation activities also add to the environmental impact. Recycling often uses less energy and causes less pollution than using raw materials. For example, the manufacture of bags from recycled rather than virgin polythene reduces energy consumption by two-thirds, produces one-third of the sulphur dioxide and one-half of the nitrous oxide, uses only one-eighth of the water and reduces carbon dioxide generation.

Recycling is a positive step which we can take to help the environment. It encourages us to think about the waste we create and take responsibility for what happens to it. Ultimately this is the greatest advantage of recycling as raising awareness is the first step towards changing the way we deal with any problem.

WHAT IS A WASTE MINIMISATION CLUB?

A Waste Minimisation Club is where businesses in a particular geographic area, group together to negotiate better terms/services from waste contractors. The Club may also share facilities, and equipment and exchange waste items that may be of use to another business. The focus should eventually lead to waste minimisation efforts being put in place by the businesses.

Each Waste Minimisation Club will be different, but ultimately it will help you deal with your waste in an environmentally sustainable manner, bring you into line with national legislation and save on waste collection and disposal costs for your business.

WHAT ARE THE STEPS?

Before you start to initiate a Waste Minimisation Club it is important to ensure that within each business, waste is being prevented at source wherever possible. For example – set the printer to double-sided, make scrap paper into notepads, provide staff with ceramic cups to eliminate plastic or polystyrene cups, the list goes on! For a list of other helpful ideas to reduce and reuse waste in your business refer to the‘Small Change Tips’.

STEP 1

Talk to neighbouring businesses to see if they are interested in forming a Waste Minimisation Club

STEP 2

Appoint a coordinator, this can be someone from:

  • The business community
  • Local Authority
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Race Against Waste Representative
  • Other

STEP 3

The businesses need to make a commitment to the Club, this can take the form of a Charter signed by a representative from each business. This charter will state that the participating business agree to

  • Prevent and minimise waste at source
  • Segregate and present their waste in a proper manner
  • Participate in regular waste audits (2 per year)
  • Document their involvement in the Club

The businesses could also form the club as a limited company.

STEP 4

Audit your waste – the service provider will require the following information from the Club:

  • Waste types
  • Weight per waste type (weekly/monthly)
  • Requirements (space, containers, onsite facilities, collection frequency etc)

The businesses will be required to provide this information in a uniform manner, (Refer to Small Change Guide Waste Audit form) however Waste Audit Workshops will be provided by the Race Against Waste Team to assist you in this process.

STEP 5

Compile the Waste Audit information and any additional Waste Minimisation Club requirements into a brief for the Service Providers.

STEP 6

Contact several Service Providers and provide them with the brief. If possible meet with the Service Providers to assess the Club’s site(s) for collection and to discuss any contractual issues.

STEP 7

Appoint a service provider

STEP 8

Ensure all members in the Waste Minimisation Club are aware of their responsibility to segregate and present waste according to the Service Provider agreement.

STEP 9

The Coordinator needs to provide opportunities for regular feedback and discussion within the Club. This could be through a bi- monthly meeting or an email forum.

STEP 10

Evaluate and monitor how the Waste Minimisation Club is working, the best way to do this is through waste audits. Every 6 months the Club members should complete a waste audit to establish how much waste has been reduced, this will also raise issues that can be discussed at the future meetings, such as:

  • Areas for improvement
  • New wastes identified
  • Opportunities for waste exchange
  • Collection issues

The Coordinator must document the Waste Audit results and all issues raised at meetings for future reference.

WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR WASTE?

There is a lot of confusion about what happens to our waste. In this section we explain the methods currently used and give an easily understandable explanation of the benefits achieved.

  • Integrated Waste Management (As Gaeilge)
  • Recycling
  • Composting is Easy (As Gaeilge)
  • Biological Treatment (As Gaeilge)
  • Incineration (As Gaeilge)
  • Landfill (As Gaeilge)
  • Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)
  • Gaeilge/Béarla Glossary of Environmental Terms