Disposable World

The amount of waste produced by households today is much greater than the amount produced 20 years ago. There are many different reasons for this, but sometimes it’s as if people think the world itself has become disposable, like an old paper plate or plastic razor that can easily be replaced.

Many of the reasons for the increase in rubbish are linked with changes to our lifestyle. These include:

  • Trend towards using more and more disposable items e.g. cameras, razors, nappies, cups etc
  • People select which products to buy based on price rather than quality. Cheap products break easily and end up being thrown away
  • Broken items are disposed of rather than repaired. Many products e.g. microwaves, are difficult and expensive to repair and it is often cheaper to buy a new one!
  • Modern electronic products like mobile phones and computers quickly go out of date or new upgraded versions are produced
  • In the recent past it has become very fashionable to buy bottles of water and coffee from coffee shops, both of which generate massive amounts of waste
  • There has been a move away from cooking at home using fresh ingredients to heavily packaged, processed meals

The choices we make every time we buy something influences how products are packaged and what products are produced.

Every pound in your pocket it like a vote.

We all have to power to make more sustainable choices in what products we buy and where we buy them.

We can try to buy products with minimal packaging, e.g. loose fruit and vegetables, reuse shopping bags and buy high quality products made from recycled materials whenever possible, while avoiding disposable things.

If everyone did this, the manufacturers would stop making them and shops would stop selling them.

One very good example of how trends in what we buy can lead to huge increases in the amount of waste produced is bottled water. The case study examines the issues around bottled water in greater detail.

Consider the following from Elizabeth Royte’s book, ‘Bottlemania’ 2008.

In the UK at least 99% of tap water passes quality sampling, wins in blind tests against name-brand waters and costs 240 to 10,000 times less than bottled water. In spite of tap water’s record in safety and value for money, in the UK 6 million litres of bottled water are drunk every day. In 2007 Americans collectively drank 50 billion single-serve bottles of water’.

From the above quote, we can see that bottled water is not only more expensive than tap water, but is also very damaging to the environment. At the same time, tap water is of an equal or higher quality and is available to all. Legislation from the European Union states that all member countries are required to supply high quality tap water.

In terms of carbon emissions, the production of bottled water releases 600 times more carbon dioxide than producing the same volume of tap water.

This is down to the production of the plastic, manufacturing and disposal of the bottles, the bottling process and transport.

The manufacturing of a tonne of PET plastic produces three tonnes of carbon dioxide and the production of a single litre bottle requires 7 litres of water and produces 100g of carbon dioxide. Worldwide, the bottling of water uses about 3.7 million tonnes of plastic each year.

In the UK the average person drank 33 litres of bottled water in 2004, but by 2007 this had risen to 41 litres and is still rising. The manufacture of 41 litre bottles will have released over 4Kg of carbon dioxide.

Many plastic water bottles still escape recycling and end up as litter, in landfills or are burnt in incinerators releasing pollution and yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Currently, around 26% of plastic bottles are recycled in the UK, but this is increasing as more and more kerbside recycling schemes start accepting them.

After use, all plastic bottles should be recycled or reused. There are many ways of reusing plastic bottles; they don’t just have to be refilled.

Every tonne of plastic bottles recycled saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon, but by far the better option is to reduce the number of bottles of water you buy.

All Councils in Northern Ireland now accept plastic bottles in their kerbside recycling schemes. Once sorted, the bottles are bailed to reduce their volume and sent on for recycling.

Bottles collected and processed by Bryson Recycling are sold on to Cherry Polymers, a local company, along with AWS Eco Plastic and Valpak in England. They are sorted, shredded, washed, melted and recycled into a wide range of products including new bottles, plastic pipes, fleece clothing, t-shirts and duvet fillings.

New plastics have been developed which are made from starch from plants instead of oil. Many of these will break down harmlessly in a compost heap, but take much longer in landfills. When they degrade (rot) without oxygen in a landfill they release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide!

To reduce waste, carbon emissions and cause the least amount of damage to the environment, the best option is to drink tap water and use reusable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.