Friday, August 03, 2007

Authorities not good at environmental information and education

No comments:
Why has no-one from the local council’s who’ve introduced new recycling systems replied to Rob Ashbee’s perceptive questions and observations about waste (‘Household waste disposal’, Bristol Evening Post Soapbox, July 21)? I can only conclude from this and from what Rob said, that the authorities simply aren’t trying hard enough, or performing adequately enough, to communicate the full benefits and reasons for the new recycling systems, which are substantial, as detailed below.

Rob said ‘To help me decide on the real value of recycling in the list priorities of actions….I would love to see a summation of the benefits to our planet…Somebody please provide this to help convince me.’. The information required to answer his request is easily available and is fully accepted science but he got a deafening silence instead. This totally ignores the immense value we would get from good quality environmental information and education.

Rob is right to say that government and councils are not doing enough to tackle waste at source. Waste reduction and minimisation should be top priority and is the most environmentally friendly option (reuse of objects is second and recycling third priority). He is right to say that household waste is a relatively small proportion of total waste – in fact its less than half the 20% he suggests and not enough is being done about industrial and commercial waste. He is also right to say that if we were all genuinely concerned we would focus our efforts first on the most environmentally damaging activities, correctly listing driving and flying as examples, to which I would add the type and source of the food we eat. Contrary to popular conceptions in a recent opinion poll whilst recycling does help fight climate change quite well its not the most effective action one can take. A truly green approach would do all that Rob suggests but then we only have token green action or ‘greenwash’ at present.

Rob is wrong to suggest that burying waste in landfill sites and burning waste in incinerators may not be such a bad option after all (environmentally these are bottom of the waste management priority list). One can see why some reach this conclusion if environmental information is not regularly and effectively communicated though.

Having said that recycling is third in the waste priority list and not the most environmentally friendly option, it is still most definitely one we need to take because of the clear and substantial benefits, especially in comparison to landfilling and incineration. Recycling massively conserves energy and water resources, thus cutting air and water pollution. Figures in Kevin Byrnes book ‘Environmental Science’ (2001), state a 90–97% reduction in energy use and air/water pollution for aluminium recycling. There are cuts in energy/water use and air/water pollution of 47-85% for steel, 23-74% for paper, and 4-50% for glass. There is also a 97% cut in mining waste by recycling steel and an 80% cut in mining waste by recycling glass.

Recycling materials makes ‘virgin’ resources last longer and reduces UK reliance on resources from other countries. It cuts waste disposal costs and thus the council tax and creates jobs in a developing sector of the economy. Participation by everyone raises environmental awareness and responsibility for waste production.

There are practical issues with the recycling systems to work on certainly, and we don’t yet have a genuinely green and coherent approach to resources, but the overall benefits of recycling are undeniable. Come on local council’s – why aren’t you writing this!!