My waste – whose business?

2 Feb

As well as looking at safety and health at work, here at Safety Management we’re also concerned with the ‘E’ in ‘SHE’. A lot of our readers also have responsibility for environmental management in their offices, warehouses, construction site or other workplaces and we want to help. What can you do to reduce the environmental impact of your work? Does just putting your waste into ‘recycling’ bags do enough?

Most workplaces these days have some sort of recycling practices in place: Although it’s not strictly a legal requirement to recycle the materials used in the workplace, the Pre-treatment of Waste legislation makes it more than a strong suggestion. More personally than this, individuals often just want to know that what they use is being re-used or recycled responsibility. For some, this ends with the sense of doing good they feel with putting paper in the recycling bin or Coke cans into the Becca Bins. Others, however, want to know more about what happens to all this stuff after it’s been sent to be ‘recycled’.

For an article in the March issue of Safety Management, I’ve been looking into the world of office recycling (arguably the biggest growth industry in the UK) an have made some interesting findings.

One striking division, in the world of recycling, is between those who promote ‘source separated’ recycling and those who pick up ‘comingled’ materials. London, for example, is a hotch potch – both in local authrities and private companies. Here in our west London office, where most of our waste is cleanish paper and drinks cans, we have the time and space to separate the junk ourselves into bags of ‘white paper’, ‘coloured paper’, ‘glass’ etc.

When I spoke to Lindsey, the operations manager at Paper Round – who pick up and distribute up SM’s recycling – she was proud to tell me about the ‘high quality’ of what they gather to recycle. Also, she said,  Paper Round operates mainly in the UK – or western Europe. She was also clear on the fact that the “around 2%” of  ‘unrecyclable’ material (ie. you dropped your teabag into the paper bin) they recive is not put into landfill, but sent to SECHP (South East London Combined Heat and Power Plant) to be incinerated, generating power for the national grid.

However, where I live in Tower Hamlets, east London – time and space is at a premium. There is a concentration of high rise living and English is not the first language to the majority of people in a lot of areas. This makes it much harder to get the message or practicalities of recycling across. Every fortnight, in my house, we put our recycling – bottles, cans, newspapers – into one single ‘pink bag’.

So, what happens to this ‘comingled’ recyling and is it really so much worse than ‘source separated’? I was impressed to see the technology they have at one east London Materials Recovery Facility to sort our mixed-up, pink bag waste:

Right now, Tower Hamlets Council are unforthcoming about the proportion of goods given for recycling which end up in landfill. It is clear, however, they they have bigger challenges that private companies that pick up from other private companies (like us) who pay for the privilege.

I need to find out more before the March Safety Management article is ready, but you might find it interesting that a lot of our mixed recycling is exported to China, and shipped back to us as new goods.

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