What can we recycle?
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
The recycling symbol
Products and packaging often have some kind of recycling symbol on them. The most common is the mobius loop, which can mean that a product is either recyclable or has some recycled content. Unless the product states the percentage of recycled content, the symbol usually means that the product can be recycled. This does not mean that it will be recycled or that such facilities exist. Many products can be recycled in theory, but the technology or money may not be available to provide collection schemes for householders.