Recycling – how to turn ‘More! More!’ into ‘Win! Win!’
The why of recycling
With around 7 billion people living on the Earth and with those who are here consuming more and more, it’s no surprise that the planet’s ability to support us all is being stretched to its limits and beyond. In fact it’s estimated that we would need the natural resources (the air, the water, the energy and other minerals) of around 1.5 planet Earths to sustain the average lifestyle of everyone on the planet in the long term. If everyone was living an Australian lifestyle the figure would be more like 4planets! Another way of looking at this is to say that each year, the Earth’s ability to sustain human demands runs out around the end of August; for the last 4 months of the year we’re living on capital which we can’t replace.
One way of reducing this problem is to encourage the practice of recycling. By recycling we can get new products without having to go back to the Earth to get the resources we need. At the same time we are reducing the demand for landfill sites, which even in a rural area like Gippsland are getting hard to find. It also means we save a lot of energy, water and greenhouse gases in the process.
The how and what of recycling
The easiest way for most people to recycle is through their household rubbish disposal. If you have a kerbside collection you can put most materials (paper and cardboard, metal, glass containers and plastic) in the recycle bin (yellow lid) provided. If you don’t have a collection at your house, you can take these items to one of the council waste transfer stations or tips (3 in Bass Coast, 6 in South Gippsland). At these transfer stations you can also recycle green waste, engine oil, car batteries, fluorescent tubes and various forms of e-waste. Full details of the services provided are available on the council websites or by phoning the council offices. Recycling of the most common materials is for free, there is a charge for some items.
A good example of the problems and potential benefits connected with waste and recycling is shown by the new but growing question of e-waste. This term covers all items with an electronic component, not only the more obvious ones like computers, TV’s, printers and DVD players but also alarm clocks, many toys and even many fridges.
The issue with electronics is that what’s on offer is getting faster, smarter and cheaper every day. Before too long there’s another “latest, improved” model on the market and if something breaks, it’s often cheaper to buy a new one than fix the old one.
Among the problems created by the accumulation of unwanted e-waste are:
- If the items end up in landfill they are potentially the source of dangerous pollution such as heavy metals
- Some of the materials used in electronic devices are among the rarest on the planet so the more quickly we buy new equipment, the more quickly these resources disappear
- If e-waste is not recycled it means that many valuable metals and other resources cannot be used again
A recent survey found that only 9 per cent of e-waste was recycled while 88 per cent, or 14.7 million devices, were sent to landfill (the remainder was exported)
On the other hand recycling e-waste has many benefits.
- We protect precious resources
- We divert usable materials from landfill and
- We conserve energy all at the same time!
In essence recycling is “above ground mining”. By recycling we are creating a new industry and new jobs locally. It really is a win, win, win scenario.
Mobile phones – questions and answers
Mobile phones present a particular and growing issue. For example, in Australia:
we upgrade or exchange our mobile phones every 18 to 24 months, meaning there are approximately 16 million unused mobile phones stashed away at home or in the office.
Over 90% of materials in mobile phones can be recovered such as nickel, cadmium, cobalt, gold, silver, copper, plastics and other metals.
Because the metals in mobile phones are very pure the phones contain a particularly rich source of precious metals. In fact one tonne of mobile phone circuit boards contains as much gold, silver and copper in a concentrated form as is found in more than 250 tonnes of the ore as it is dug out of the ground.
Mobile phones, along with their chargers and batteries can be recycled at all the local transfer stations (tips) in secure bins set aside for that purpose only. Also most Post Offices and some other local businesses can provide you with post bags in which you can send your phones post free to the Mobile Muster program. This business handles the recycling of mobile phones in Australia and details of all its drop off points are available from its website, www.mobilemuster.com.au, or by phoning 1300 730 070.
Can you really find recycled organs at a garage sale?
Many people who have a recycled organ have a transplanted heart, lung or liver. Maddy Harford took the idea more literally and found a recycled organ of the musical variety! ‘It’s a beauty,’ she says, ‘It’s got two keyboards, foot pedals and a lot of stops; just what my son wanted to practice on. I got it for $40 at a garage sale in Wonthaggi.’
Maddy is a fan of a very important aspect of recycling – reuse, finding a use for something that might have otherwise ended up in landfill. For her, one of the most important pages in the Sentinel-Times each week is the one listing the weekend’s garage sales. Maddy is also a fan of op shops and, of course, e-bay. When she was having a house built recently she saved a good deal of money, as well as having a lot of fun and excitement, chasing things down on e-bay. For example, most of the doors in her new house were purchased on line (‘Perfectly good, solid timber; 12 for $220’) from someone who was upgrading to the latest fashion. But her prize purchase is the kitchen. She watched carefully till one with the right dimensions came along – and then she pounced! She is now the proud owner of a good as new kitchen with floor and wall cupboards, cook top, sink, wall oven and dishwashwasher for the princely sum of $1800.
Remember for every item you buy this way, you are saving the energy, water and resources that would be required to make a new item. You’re not only saving money, you’re doing your bit to help the environment.
Is it a load of rubbish or a piece of art? (It may depend on how creative you are)
If you’ve got a creative mind, like Pauline Grotto, what might appear like a load of rubbish to many people becomes the material for a work of art. Pauline, who recently was awarded the Gippsland Sustainability Festival’s art award, finds her material at the tip, lying around on farms and washed up on the beach. Instead of adding rubbish to landfill, Pauline adds beauty to the landscape.
Even if you’re not an artist like Pauline there might be something you can do with ‘cast offs’. From simply using old jars as storage containers to restyling clothes or rebuilding an engine. What is possible is only limited by our imaginations.
Pauline is seen with her sculpture of a grass tree which is made from old beads, pieces of wire and driftwood. In the background, the ladder is next to her new studio, which, appropriately enough is being made from recycled material!