Recycling made simple


GOLDEN RULE Refuse packaging when possible, recycle what you can’t reuse, and reuse what you can.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

March 18 was Global Recycling Day, designated to draw attention to the materials we often treat as waste, and to encourage more recycling to avoid exploiting new natural resources for our goods. The goal is for people and governments to see materials as resources that can be used in more creative and efficient ways, rather than being buried in landfills or incinerated.
I grew up in a household that was an early adopter of recycling in Kentucky, a largely rural state in the US. A couple of times a year, we would help my mother collect, compact and transport hundreds of aluminium cans to a recycling centre 45 minutes from our house, and the money she received at the time was deposited into savings accounts for our further education.
Since then, the economic reward for recycling has decreased or disappeared, and we find ourselves paying for the service of collection from our homes. At the same time, despite years of educational campaigns, it can seem more confusing than ever to know what is accepted and what happens to it after.
The latest data on recycling in Ireland from the EPA shows that there was a recycling rate of only 38 percent of all municipal waste in 2018, which was a decrease on previous years. The rate of recycling of plastic packaging was only 31 percent, which was also lower than other years.
To help avoid confusion, I distilled advice into a couple of key rules that work in our household. First, recyclable goods are generally those that are made of sturdy materials: aluminium cans, tins, hard plastics and glass (in specified bins), as they are robust enough to be transformed into something else. Cardboard and paper are pulped and remade. However, soft plastics are not recyclable, as they are generally too flimsy to withstand further processing, and they are usually contaminated by the food or other products they cover.
Then, materials should be clean and dry, so rinse a yogurt pot or beverage can and let it air dry on a drying rack. Place all goods in the bin loose; there’s no need to waste a plastic bag for these, as you can just line your bin with newspaper.
However, the most important part of recycling is to first reduce the need for it by refusing to buy items wrapped in new packaging to the extent possible, or choosing items with packaging that can at least be reused.
We started our shop to enable customers to refill food, cleaning products and personal care items into their own containers, and more shops are opening around the country to facilitate this as well. Choosing to refill a spice jar, porridge bag, tub of granola or a bottle of washing up liquid or shampoo helps radically reduce the materials going into the bin for recycling or general waste. This is generally cheaper both at the point of filling (as you are not paying for the packaging) and at the point of paying for waste collection services. Win-win!
McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.