Zero waste week

Arboreal co-director, Tom Raymont, spent this past week attempting to live without creating any waste. He collected everything that he threw away with the aim that all of it should be either recyclable or compostable. After seven days he had just over a kilogram of material: 600g (56%) was compostable, 460g (42%) was recyclable and 25g (2%) was rubbish that could only be sent to landfill or incineration. Currently, about half of UK rubbish is sent to landfill and half incinerated but this balance is changing quickly and is likely to be 90% incineration and 10% landfill by 2020.

The biggest challenge was to shop for food and consumer goods that came in recyclable packaging or none at all. It revealed that whilst paper, metal and glass are easily identified and recycled, plastics are still a confusion of recyclable and non-recyclable types, often with poor or no labelling. As recyclable plastic can be made into stiff containers and flexible films, printed with multiple colours or left transparent (see photographs) there seems to be no reason to continue to allow the use of non-recyclable plastics in packaging. We will be writing to our local MP shortly.

The majority of thin plastic films are labelled as non-recyclable but there were a few key exceptions. The sponge packet was polypropylene, proving that a clear plastic with printed colour text is possible in a recyclable plastic. The granola packet was an opaque plastic foil labelled as mixed plastic and only recyclable “where facilities exist”; a tautological claim that highlights the gap between industry manufacturing practices and local authority waste provision. Lastly, the biscuit wrapper was offering a third-party alternative for anyone willing to collect, save and post their packaging to Terracycle. By signing up on their website, you can print freepost labels to send the packaging for recycling. 

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