Preventing Waste at Home
Each year, Irish households produce around 1 tonne of waste. The good news is that overall recycling rates continue to rise and our dependence on landfill as a waste management route is decreasing. However, managing our waste has impacts on the environment, so preventing waste is to be preferred to any waste management option. By not generating waste, we can eliminate the need to handle, transport, treat and dispose of waste. We also then avoid having to pay for these services. To make a difference, we must make a conscious effort to do so. This section provides information and advice on how we can all take steps to prevent waste in the home.
What can you do?
We are often bombarded with lots of information on things we should, or shouldn’t, be doing to help the planet. This can be overwhelming and can lead to lack of action and feelings of guilt. The answer is that you don’t have to do everything all at once! Making one small change can make a difference, so here are a few suggestions. Even if you just try one thing, you will be helping the environment and saving money at the same time.
- Avoid single use disposable items, e.g. razors, batteries, wipes
- Make a shopping list for your groceries, and stick to it
- Choose less packaging by buying loose produce and buying in bulk where possible
- Switch to rechargeable batteries
- Say no to Junk Mail – put a no junk mail sticker on your letterbox
Stop Food Waste
One third of the food we buy ends up in the bin, which can cost the average Irish household around €700 each year.
The main reason people waste food is that they buy too much or they don’t use it on time. By making small changes to how we manage food at home, we can reduce the amount of food we waste, and save money at the same time.
We usually think of food waste at the end, when we throw the food in the bin. But stopping food waste starts at the point when we buy our groceries, and it continues at home where we store and cook the food we have bought. At each of these stages food waste can be avoided.
A top tip to avoid food waste is to make a list of what you throw out over the next week. We all think we don’t throw away much, but you'll be surprised to see just how much you waste and this is guaranteed to make you sit up and take notice!
Things you can start today:
- Don’t go shopping when you are hungry, you’ll buy more than you need.
- Before you go, take a photo of the inside of your fridge with your phone so you can remind yourself what’s there as you go around the shop.
- Check use-by-dates to avoid buying food that might be thrown out if not eaten immediately.
- Beware of special deals – these are great for toilet rolls and shampoo but bad for fruit, veg and salads (anything that can go off quickly). These are the things we buy because of a “good deal”, but often they do not get eaten.
- If it’s an option for you, try shopping online for the basics - you get only what you want because you are not distracted by all the other goods on shelves AND you save money.
For more help and advice on how to reduce the amount of food you throw away, and what you can do with the unavoidable food waste visit http: www.stopfoodwaste.ie.
Reuse & Repair
Have you ever bought something from a postcard advertisement in a local shop, or from DoneDeal or Gumtree? Or have you ever donated books, toys or clothes to charity shops or school events? Then without knowing it, you have engaged in a really important environmentally friendly activity called REUSE. Reuse is important for a lot of reasons. Often when someone has finished with a perfectly good item, it might get thrown away because goods are cheap these days and it’s easy to buy something else. But when a good item is thrown away, the value of the item is lost. The value lost includes the materials in the object, the by-products and waste produced in its construction, the energy and water used in its construction, fuel used in its transport and even the skill and time of the people involved in its manufacture! That’s a lot to think about, right? Quite literally a wasted opportunity.
So how can we squeeze a bit more life out of this “embedded value”?
Firstly, why are you getting rid of an item? Is it broken? Can it be fixed or repurposed? Perhaps you have outgrown it – if so fine, and others would be delighted to grow into it! There are a range of small community-based organisations all over Ireland who take such items and give them an entirely new life. Projects like The Rediscovery Centre can take clothes, bikes and furniture and repair and revamp them (www.rediscoverycentre.ie). Upcycled and second hand furniture is becoming quite a trend and there are a number of organisations in different parts of the country that can upcycle your furniture to order or who may have a keenly priced pre-loved piece to complement your home. Some useful contacts here include Busy Bees Furniture Recycling, Dublin (www.furniturerecyclingdublin.com), Revamp 3R Store, Longford (www.revamp3Rstore.com) and Kingdom Furniture Revamp, Castleisland, County Kerry (www.facebook.com/KingdomFurnitureRevamp/)
The Community Reuse Network acts as a focal points for many of the groups doing this sort of work (www.crni.ie). Have a look on their site to see if there is a member near you that can help. Or why not use their free Reuse It! App which will help you to with ideas and addresses of organisations that will help you re-use.
In many cases, community reuse organisations are social enterprises engaged in providing jobs and training to long term unemployed or disabled people, so your reuse activity is generating more value for your local community!
Why not look to Upcycle for a hobby? Upcycling changes the use of old items to new and creative uses like pallet furniture. The Upcycle Movement is a great resource to look to for inspiration, creative ideas and practical help with this (www.theupcyclemovement.com).
Art materials for schools, communities groups, creches can cost a small fortune. Why not go the eco route while saving a packet? ReCreate Ireland takes end-of-line materials from a range of businesses and redistributes them for use as art materials to school, clubs and communities all over Ireland. This material is pre-waste, as it has never been used, and so is pristine and suitable for even very young children (www.recreate.ie).
How about looking to repair an item? Often local authorities might run Men’s Shed or Repair Café events, where experts help you to fix that broken hairdryer or lawnmower, over a cup of tea and a biscuit! Check out your local press or LA website for planned events in your area.
But what if you can’t reuse or repair and you still need to get rid of an item, what can you do? Why not place it on FreeTrade Ireland? (www.freetradeireland.ie) this is an online swap site - like DoneDeal, but for free! You simply post your item online with a pic and if someone wants it they come and pick it up free of charge. You can also look for items there yourself? It’s great for stuff for the garden.
If you have an old mattress you want to get rid of, projects like Eco Mattress in Dublin and Boomerang in Cork can collect it for a small fee. These are social enterprises that dismantle old beds in an environmentally sound way.
Got an old computer? Rehab or Camara will take old IT equipment, and either dismantle it responsibly or even recondition it for use in schools in Ireland or abroad. They are wonderful social projects that double the life of your average PC (www.camara.org; www.rehabrecycle.ie).
So, next time the bin beckons, think REPAIR/REUSE before RECYCLE!!!
Managing my Bins
Household waste is usually collected once a week from the kerbside by a waste collection company, in wheelie bins or in pre-tagged bags.
All waste collectors operate a system of waste separation, collecting residual waste and recycling waste on alternate weeks. Different types of waste must be put in colour-coded wheelie bins, such as green bins for recycling, brown bins for food waste and black or grey bins for waste going to landfill/incineration (also called residual or general waste).
Always check with your bin service provider what can go in the bin. Most collectors will have information on their websites, or will have provided you with a leaflet.
Recycling (Green bin): Common materials collected in the recycling or green bin include cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, drinks cans, tins and Tetra paks.
Organic Waste (Brown bin): By July 2016, organic waste or brown bins will be rolled out to most towns and villages. Householders must segregate their food waste and put it in to the brown bin. The contents of the brown bin are brought by your waste collector to a composting facility, where it is used to produce a high quality compost. Materials collected in the brown bin include kitchen food scraps, fruit and vegetables, plant trimmings, tea bags.
Residual or general waste (Black bin): Finally your residual waste bin is for any waste that you cannot put into your recycling or organic bins. By keeping this waste to a minimum and correctly using your recycling and food waste bins you will save money.
Pay-by-Weight: At the moment waste contractors around the country use a variety of different methods to charge for their services. The Government are currently considering charging each household on a Pay-by-Weight basis for their waste collection service. This will mean householders will pay a set annual service charge plus a charge based on the weight of the bin. Your recycling & brown bin will be cheaper than your residual bin. The advantage of pay by weight is that reducing your waste and segregating correctly will save money as less goes in your residual waste bin.
Top tips for managing your bins
- Ensure you know the correct collection day for your area and the schedule for recycling and residual waste collections.
- Separate your waste at home. Bins with 2 or 3 compartments are available in DIY shops or supermarkets, or use containers that can fit neatly in to your kitchen cupboards.
- Ensure you know what can go for recycling in your green bin – check with your service provider.
- Do not contaminate your recycling by putting food waste or other compostable materials (such as garden waste) in the green bin.
- To recycle more, use smaller bins or containers to segregate your recycling waste in different rooms around the house, e.g. bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Use a container or caddy in the kitchen for your food waste. Once this is full it can be emptied in to your bin outside.
To find out how to reduce your waste, browse the waste prevention section on the EPA website
Check with your waste collection service provider to find out what can go in each bin.
Visit Stop Food Waste website
Find out more about using the brown bin correctly
Hazardous waste in the home
Every day we use products in our home that have chemical formulations that can be hazardous to our health and the environment. These products are used for cleaning, decorating our homes, improving our gardens, and even for personal grooming. However many of us don’t often think too much about the hazard symbols we see on these products such as bleach and other cleaning products, weed killers, oil-based paints, varnishes, motor oils and nail polish.
To avoid any potential impacts on our health and the environment, reducing the use of such products is the best option. When possible choose products that have a lesser impact on the environment. Many supermarkets and health food shops stock more environmental friendly products. Also try to purchase correct quantities of hazardous products so as to eliminate left overs. Click here to view the householders guide to Hazardous Waste Prevention.
Waste batteries are also a hazardous waste. You should never throw waste batteries in your bin. Instead you should bring them to your local recycling centre or leave them at a shop where batteries are sold, its free and you do not need to buy any new batteries in order to leave them at the shop. If the shop sells batteries they must take them back. You might have seen the blue boxes in the shops which are used to store the waste batteries, the collected waste batteries are then brought for recycling. Recycling your batteries reduces the impact on our environment. Click here for further infomation on waste batteries.
For a room by room approach on how to save money and reduce the use of chemicals and hazardous materials for cleaning kitchens, toilets, living rooms, download the Greener Cleaning guide.
Planting and garden maintenance uses resources like water, compost, fertilisers, plants and other materials. It’s not difficult to reduce the environmental impact of these activities and prevent waste if you know how. Download the Greener Gardening guide to find out more about using less chemicals and more natural products.
Composting is the natural process of decomposition that turns organic materials like garden waste and vegetable food scraps into a dark, crumbly and earthy smelling material called compost. When done correctly, composting at home is an effective way of dealing with garden and unavoidable food waste, and you can use the compost to improve the soil in your vegetable garden.
Benefits of composting at home:
- Cut waste expenses and save money: The average Irish household throws away €700 worth of food waste a year. Once you collect kitchen waste for composting, you will become more aware of the amount of food you are throwing out. Knowing what you are throwing away, and realising its value, is the first step to tackling your food waste. Composting at home will also save on the cost of your waste bins.
- Prevent waste and conserve resources: By composting at home, you reduce the need to collect, process, treat and/or dispose of biodegradable materials. This saves landfill space and the fuel needed to move this waste around.
- Build healthy soil: Compost is magical stuff – especially if you have made it at home yourself. It is full of nutrients and life. It improves the soil’s fertility, texture, structure and moisture & nutrient-holding capacity. And remember, healthy soils grow healthy, disease resistant plants.
- Protect biodiversity: Peat moss from Ireland’s bogs and peatlands has been used for many years as a soil improver and for potting mixes. Peatlands are home to wonderful species of flora and fauna, many of them both important and endangered. By composting at home, you will reduce the need to purchase peat moss and in turn help protect the biodiversity of Ireland’s peatlands.
- Preserve our environment: Most food and garden materials end up in our landfills. Here they rot underground and produce foul liquids, odours and methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide. Composting at home is the most environmentally friendly way to manage biodegradable materials and puts them to productive use.
Composting is easy... once you know how; it has many benefits but it’s better to know a few simple facts before you begin. Composting and the organisms involved, like all other life forms, need food, air and water to survive and thrive. The five essential conditions for successful composting are:
To find out more about composting at home, visit the EPA’s Stop Food Waste website. There you will find plenty of information on the ‘art’ of composting, from choosing a composting system to suit your needs to the correct mix of brown and green ‘ingredients’ for perfect compost and troubleshooting some of the more common problems in relation to composting at home.
You can also download a practical guide to home composting.
Visit a composting demonstration site
If you’d like to see practical demonstration of composting in action and examples of different composting systems, there is a network of home composting demonstration sites in locations around the country, such as in public parks, allotments, adult education centres and housing estates. To arrange to visit a site, check out the map to find a site near you and the relevant contact details.
Waste is an inevitable part of our daily lives, from yesterday’s newspaper, the packaging on groceries to larger items such as televisions, fridges and even cars. The more stuff we buy, the more waste we generate – so the big-picture solution to dealing with waste is to change our habits. We need to become more resource efficient and use things for longer: by repairing things when they stop working, or by hanging on to that phone for one more year.
However, once the useful life of an item has been reached, we do need to find the best way to discard it. As a basic rule, sending our rubbish to landfills is generally not good. It gets the rubbish away from the door but landfills themselves cause pollution, including odours, water problems and greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, it is also a big missed opportunity for recovering some of the useful life left in what we want to throw away.
Recycling offers a way to keep these useful resources working for us and avoids the need to go looking for new materials, whether by mining metals, cutting down trees or drilling for oil. Across Europe, people have been recycling for long time, but we are more recent converts to it. That said, the people of Ireland have embraced recycling and our performance is right up there with the rest of Europe. One part of the reason for this good performance is that recycling has been made easier with green-bins for most households; bring-banks in nearly every town & village; and take-back schemes by furniture and electronics retailers.
Sometimes what we recycle can be put straight back into use for someone else, for example recycled clothes; and sometimes processing has to happen to make our waste become the raw material for another business. Example of this would be dismantling of mattresses into their component parts; or the combining & blending of unused paint for reuse. Often these operations are carried out within Ireland so recycling offers real employment opportunities to people in our local communities.
A further benefit of recycling is that it brings our waste into a more regulated and safe system for treating the hazardous materials that can be inside. Examples here would be oils and other fluids from old cars; or the acids and heavy metals used in batteries. Improper disposal of these materials can pollute our water supplies and are dangerous for children who can come into contact with dumped waste while playing outdoors.
For almost every product there is now a route for recycling it – sometimes these routes for recycling are free and sometimes there is a charge applied. REPAK keep a listing of recycling sites across Ireland with searchable maps, information on opening hours and the types of waste accepted.
The 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, are well known as the mantra of sustainability. Waste prevention involves rethinking how we do things to avoid producing waste. By reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ we buy and use, we decrease the resources needed for manufacture, transport and disposal. We also cause less impact on the environment where the materials originate, during their transport and where they are disposed of. We also save money by not buying ‘stuff’ we don’t need.
We are now consuming more resources than ever before, and the current patterns of development across the world are not sustainable. Resources such as water, air, metals, minerals, forests, land, food and biodiversity systems are essential for our prosperity and wellbeing, but we are using them faster than they can be replaced.
We are all consumers – we need to eat, we need to work, and we need to travel, but our challenge is to do this within the planet’s capacity. Recent WWF data shows that living like an average EU citizen requires 2.6 planet Earths to sustain us. And in Ireland, we live as though we had 3.2 planets at our disposal. We need to be more sustainable in the way we use these resource by preventing and reducing waste, being more efficient in the way we use resources and using more renewable resources.
Reducing our consumption …. Our choices can make a difference
As consumers, we can play our part by thinking about our consumption habits and considering the impact of the products we buy.
As more of us think about the impact of the choices we make on the environment and communities around the globe, the more power we have through our purchasing choices. This is the best way for us to send messages to companies, industries and governments; telling them that we support or reject certain corporate practices.
Here are some things to ask ourselves when making consumer choices:
- Do I really need it? This is the first question to ask; wanting something and needing it are not the same thing! We’ve become used to replacing things because we feel like it, not because they’ve worn out; perhaps I can make do with what I have.
- Can I produce it myself, e.g. growing my own vegetables, or have I something I could repurpose or repair? Maybe I could borrow or hire it, or perhaps share it with neighbour/friends, e.g. garden tools.
- Do I need a new one? Check out local charity shops or online platforms such as www.freetrade.ie for previously owned items looking for a new home.
- And when we do have to buy goods, consider what the product is made of. Is the product over-packaged? Does it contain hazardous chemicals? Buy to last; choose products that can be repaired. And when it is worn out, can it be recycled at the end of its life?
- Also consider the initial outlay compared to running costs – sometimes a product might cost a bit more to buy, but may be more efficient to run over its lifetime in terms of water & energy use. This may involve a bit of time to research but it may save money in the long term.
To understand more about the impact of our production and consumption patterns, watch this short video.
To learn about measuring our carbon footprint
For more on things to consider when making consumer choices, download this EU guide to Consumption