Cleaning up the waste recycle myth
I have lived in Spain more than half my life and have seen many changes on all levels. One thing that has really changed is the way we manage household waste.
Years ago you would go up to the street and dump all your garbage into a single container and that was it. Although it took some years to develop the habit, we have learned to separate our garbage so things can be recycled. We are following the rules and have modified how we dispose of our waste.
The organic stuff, collected in the kitchen, is put in a pink pot with a lid standing in the laundry room. Once a week Michael digs it into the soil of the vegetable garden. We have 10 raised plots approximately 2 meters by 3 meters and he applies organic waste to a new field every year or so, avoiding planting anything in that plot for a year after application.
He does this in a rotating process, changing to a new field when the current one is full. The funny thing is that suddenly potatoes, avocados or tomato plants pop up. Some of these we replant in a new plot.
We have two German supermarket chains, Lidl and Aldi, in Alhaurin de la Torre. Some time ago, they found it was a high time to provide biodegradable plastic bags for their clients. We found this a great idea. We had been using our own cotton bags before that, but there are times the cotton net bags are not appropriate.
In this house, old newspapers help with the heating. I even ask friends to collect newspapers for me. We have a small metal hand press in the garage, and we press newspaper that have soaked. The papers will soak for at least 24 hours before being pressed into bricks. I know there are ways to tightly roll newspapers into a log like appearance as well, but this way has worked well for us.
The drying may take a week or more. Once the paper blocks are made, they are placed on a rack to dry in the air. We use them in the fireplace and they burn nearly for 1 hour.
In the garage, we have a big bag hanging, in which all the hard plastic is collected. Items like bottles, caps, meat trays, and other plastic that can be recycled. We also collect all the glass jars and bottles. We drink at least 1 glass of red wine in the evenings and a lot of our groceries come in glass bottles. You can imagine that by the end of the week, we have quite a collection.
Then there are those things that do not fall into any of these categories. We produce about one small bag of mixed waste a week. Overall, I think our waste management has improved a lot over the years. I believe we are doing a good job helping our environment, but is that really true?
It now seems that even with the best intentions, we have to improve how we dispose of our waste, as otherwise it is of no use.
For those of you who are not using the bio waste yet, you will find great tips in the following book. Composting has already become a household word. The bio leftovers from the kitchen, grass clippings and autumn leaves from the garden, all of this enriches the soil. The produce of your vegetable garden will thrive.
What are we doing wrong ?
Often, all the different bins waiting on the street for you to throw in the segregated waste ends up in a landfill. This should not be like that, but it seems to happen often. Landfills are harmful to our health as the following well-known case illustrates.
I live on the Costa del Sol, in the south of Spain. Near the town of Fuengirola is an old urbanization (subdivision) which was build on a landfill. This happened many years ago. It so happens I have a Danish friend who owns a house on this site and has lived there for over 16 years.
She has never felt happy in this house, and her health is not good. The many cats and dogs that shared her life have all had cancer and other health problems. She told me the same happens to all the people and animals living on that street.
Now, everyone knows that this urbanization was build on this old landfill. This landfill was not cleaned up or capped properly, and a significant number of houses were built on top. The issue was hushed up and hidden from the public for a long time.
When you are not careful with your waste and mix things that should not be combined, the recycling facilities often will not take the trouble to separate it. Different classes of waste might damage the machines or slow down the process and that is why it often ends up mixed all together. In cases like this, plastic items, glass, and paper may be put in a landfill where it will lie for years all the while releasing toxic chemicals. Many of these items will never degrade.
As you can see in this YouTube video, too much waste is still not separated to allow recycling.
We can all do better, so here come the things you should be careful with.
There are many types of batteries, and they all contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals. These should not be thrown into your waste bucket. They cause soil contamination and water pollution.
Lead-acid batteries, like the ones in your car or golf cart, can be recycled. Most often, the vendor selling you a new battery will accept the old one for recycling. The lead can be saved.
The ones you find in watches, toys or medical devices are the silver oxide type and contain a little mercury. The silver and mercury can be recycled, but this would require a large volume to make it profitable. Lithium ion or lithium iron phosphate batteries contain useful metals such as copper, aluminum, cobalt, nickel and some rare earth metals. These are valuable metals and need to be saved.
Batteries must not end up in landfills, they need to be recycled so please bring them to the appropriate places in your locality.
Paper towels and tissues
They are made of paper so actually it can be recycled. The problem is that after having been used the paper is soiled with kitchen grease, dirt from the floor or any number of different more disgusting things. This will then contaminate the other recyclables, so they are discarded.
Plastic bags are bad. Previously, when we got a plastic bag, at least it would get a second use and sometimes multiple uses. Still, there would come the day it would be converted into some kind of garbage bag. They form a hazard in our environment, especially when they end up in rivers or the oceans. These bags do not disintegrate and birds and sea animals can get harmed.
The recycling facilities will not open plastic bags to look at what is inside. So please do not put recyclable items in plastic bags. Those bags can be recycled, but in a different process. There might be a place where you live that accepts plastic bags.
If you have a chance and nothing important is on it, do not shred paper as it lowers the quality and the facilities will not accept it. Do not try to recycle paper in a plastic bag, as that will stop it from being recycled.
Most people love pizza and it is a booming business. Did you know that in the U.S., 3 billion pizzas are sold each year? It seems to be the favorite food for kids between 3 and 11 years of age. These kids prefer it over all other food and would love to eat it for lunch and dinner. No wonder our health is going down the drain. A pizza box can be recycled, but It has to be clean of food scraps. Otherwise it will end up in a landfill.
Scientists have warned it might take a million years to decompose and they are not even sure about this number. It could take much longer. This is not something that should be lying about in the environment and should therefor not be thrown into the garbage bin, so please take Styrofoam to a place where it is accepted for recycling.
In the old time, these hangers were made of wood. Especially for men’s jackets and coats. They are sturdy and big. Nowadays hangers are usually made of plastic or wire. You should not throw them away, instead take them to the local dry cleaner. They probably will be well accepted there.
In most cases, this is recyclable but please, do not leave food inside. Here at home, they end up in the garage as Michael gives them a second use. They are used for sorting nails, screws, bolts and many other things. He uses plastic trays for mixing epoxy for little repair projects and has even found a good way to convert the plastic gallon jugs into storage with handles. Like that, many plastic items will can have a second use in the workshop. I use the yogurt containers for my stone collections.
Not all glass is the same and broken glass or mirrors would be a hazard to the workers in the facility. Bottles and glass jars are recycled in a different way. We collect these glass items and once a month they are taken to the glass collection container on the road.
The distinct light bulbs
The old incandescent bulbs are not available in stores anymore. At home I still have a small stock of these light bulbs. Then came the energy efficient Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL). The problem with these lamps is that they contain a slight amount of mercury. These types of lamps form a danger to our environment when they are dumped in a landfill.
If a bulb like that should break in your house, it needs special handling for disposal. I used them in my house, but after realizing the danger if they break, I only use them for outside lamps. You might have to bring the debris to a special place.
I had one of those bulbs in the lamp above my head in my workroom until I read that each time you switch on the light; it frees a small puff of mercury. I changed it for an LED lamp.
Have you noticed that when shopping for toys, you will hardly find anything that is not made of plastic? Hard plastic, soft plastic, and everything in between. These toys might include different materials like metal pieces, so it may not be possible to recycle. The best way out is to donate to different charities.
Last but not least Coffee cups
One would think these cups are recyclable, but in most cases they are not. The culprit is that thin layer of wax that prevents the cup from getting soggy. Starbucks is trying to invent a 100% recyclable cup but has not been successful yet. That is definitely a good idea as Starbucks uses more than 8000 cups a minute. That makes four billion a year.
There is more data to consider and you probably do not think about it. 1.6 million trees are harvested to provide the material to make these cups. So many trees, yet these cups are not recyclable? there is something wrong somewhere.
The recycling process starts in your own house. Last year I talked to a young woman in my village. She told me that little children from a young age are taught the basics in school. Each week a different child is asked to take care of the waste and is shown in which container on the street the different items should go. They are told that we should keep our environment clean. I think this is a very good initiative.
I have made a special page for you. Have a look Recommendations.There is a nice collection of things you might like.
Source: The Alternative Daily article on April 23, 2020, by Hilary Lebow
Photo Source: Pixabay
There are many recent inventions that help to reduce waste. Have a look at the following post, I think it is an interesting concept.