08 Jan

Waking up from our coffee cup nightmare

latte levy, coffee cup tax

Photo courtesy of Takahiro Sakamoto on Unsplash

The UK starts to wake up from a coffee cup nightmare, but we’re still snoring here.

Ring ring…..alarm bell ringing….wake up. Don’t press the snooze button. Just get up and smell the coffee.
Isn’t it great to see that the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee, the EAC, have released a report recommending that a 25p levy is added to hot drinks served in disposable/throwaway cups – dubbed the coffee cup tax or latte levy.
We’re delighted that the UK has, at last, woken up and started to confront the disposable cup nightmare that is growing by the day. We have the same problem in Ireland but as yet we only see procrastination at Government level, as they claim to be ‘evaluating’ options. Sounds more like like snoring?

There is simply no way this horrendous and completely avoidable problem can be put back in its box. Just watch any Sky Ocean Rescue TV programme to see the disaster that is ocean plastic pollution. The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee has, like any environmentally literate person, wisely seen the reality and recognised that the burgeoning mountain of disposable coffee cups is effectively un-recylable.
Like the situation in Ireland, it is overwhelming the UK’s waste treatment systems, polluting rivers and seas, and must be stopped. The situation cannot be allowed to continue. It’s completely at odds with the EU’s Circular Economy direction. The time has come for us all to make a stand. We need to tell the coffee shop businesses, their cup suppliers and customers to stop making and using badly designed products and expecting the us, taxpayer, to pay for their clean up.
You see, they pay only a fraction towards the infrastructure costs of the little recycling that actually goes on at present. And we will need a lot of expensive infrastructure to handle the volume of waste cups – 2.5 billion coffee cups being used yearly in the UK alone. The make up of the cups, being either wax or plastic and paper means it is difficult to separate the paper and only specialist equipment can do it properly. There are currently only three recycling facilities in the UK that can split the paper from the plastic for recycling, and none in Ireland. That’s why less than 1% of cups are recycled.
So what happens to all the used cups? They mainly go to create fuel for Incinerators or become part of the RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) mix and get burned or end up on landfill. After a few moments of use for drinking they endure decades or longer in landfills.

Disposable Coffee cups are used for a matter of moments, but will pollute our planet for centuries to come.

Will the extra charges work?

That’s debatable. Let’s look back at the plastic bag tax, pioneered in Ireland and now widely copied around the world, most recently in Kenya  with the toughest ban to date. Plastic bag usage was drastically reduced within months. The tax started low and has steadily increased in Ireland, with the revenue raised being promised to support environmental projects. (This now seems to be under question in Ireland as transparency in the use of the funds is being eroded). However the success of the plastic bag tax generally saw an 85% or more reduction in the amount of single-use plastic bags being sold. Kenya expects to see 100% reduction due to the complete ban and the stiff penalties.
While it may work for plastic bags, it is less likely to have such an impact for coffee drinkers. It’s like raising the tax on cigarettes. It does not have a significant impact as smokers or coffee drinkers will absorb the extra cost.. Coffee prices vary from place to place so it may not be readily apparent to the consumer, who may not then take a moment to reflect and change his/her ways..

But is it just?

Why should the coffee drinker have to pay for failures of others to design suitable containers (e.g the disposable coffee cup) that can be recycled easily? We think the customer should NOT pick up this tab. It should be absorbed by the coffee shop or supplier. This will incentivise them to find better solutions, like offering re-usable cups. After all they consume the coffee and rent the container while doing so. They should therefore only pay for the coffee and let the supplier deal with the mechanics of the delivery method. This will encourage suppliers to find the best long term solution, and it will not be better disposables. We are entering the circular economy era and the old linear approach of take, make and forsake no longer works.

What we’d prefer to see is

  1. Producer pays principle. Make suppliers pay for producing mixed material packaging that is difficult to recycle (e.g. tetra paks and disposable coffee cups are such products). The producers of this waste must take financial responsibility, not the taxpayer or customer.
  2.  Clear labelling– customers must know that cups are ‘not widely recycled’ and shouldn’t be fooled by misleading indicators or green washing.
  3. Full costs recovered. The suppliers of these un-recyclable cups should pay the full cost of the infrastructure needed to recycle them and not have it subsidized by the state. The taxpayer, after all, is also the consumer here and pays twice under the levy proposals.
  4. 100% by 2020. All coffee & beverage cups being used should be 100% recycled, and if they can’t be – they should be banned from the market place.
  5.  Reward good behavour. Immediately implement standard discounts across all coffee shops for customers who bring a re-usable cup like the current Conscious Cup campaign that operates internationally.

But in the end, finding that right solution will be a matter for law and regulation, not just mere financial incentives.
As the UK’s EAC report states: “The voluntary approach is not working”. So any new legislation needs to set a date after which the continued production of unrecyclable coffee cups and other such containers is banned by law (Just like in Kenya today).

We must stop the production of all non-recyclable plastic products. Period!

Our government needs to take note of this report’s recommendations and help us to end the flow of plastic entering our landfills, oceans and food chain.

So,what can I do now?

You can take action now by joining the #consciouscup campaign and getting yourself a reusable coffee cup so you can say goodbye to the disposable cup era once and for all.
Oh, share the care by inviting your friends for a conscious cup of coffee and get them to do the same.

01 Dec

Green Bin Rules – are we unpaid recycling workers?


green bin rules

Are we working as unpaid staff for the recycling companies?

It might seem like that when you read the revised green bin collection guidelines given by the Co Councils for household waste recycling. We must sort, separate, loosen, wash, clean and dry our materials before they go in the green bin. That’s hard work and we still have to pay them to have it taken away.

It was a surprise to listeners of Cork’s 96FM Radio station this week when we discussed the apparent ‘new green bin rules’ outlined by the Councils through the Regional Waste Management Authorities. These rules were always in place since 2014 but never policed until the rejection of recycled waste shipments by the Chinese in the past few months put waste shippers under pressure to improve their quality controls. This has resulted in a call going back to consumers here to provide ‘cleaner’ recycled materials. Rejected materials cost the waste shippers dearly and will result in higher prices here to consumers ultimately as they have to re-work the materials before re-exporting. (we don’t really do a lot of recycling in Ireland in actual fact. Our apparent ‘good recycling rates’ are just collection  and export for recycling abroad. We really need to do more real recycling and remanufacturing in Ireland and create the green jobs here. But that’s another blog topic.

More  info: PJ Coogan on Cork’s 96FM Opinion line discusses the issues with waste quality rules now being enforced on households.

Why should the items be clean and dry?

If your container contained food or liquid, then some residues will remain. These will contaminate the recycling process so they must be rinsed clean to remove the matter before going into your recycle bin (green bin). Food and liquid can contaminate the materials in the recycling bin especially the paper recycling process. Wet paper cannot be recycled.

Why is there a new list?

It’s not a new list. It will vary from area to area depending on recycling facilities available. Recycled materials such as paper and cardboard, metals and plastic are sold on the global market, by the recyclers but the prices and demand for these materials constantly change. To get the best value for our materials, they need to be cleaned and sorted. China and India are major buyers of recyclable material from Europe and they use these materials for manufacturing instead of extracting raw materials. As stated above, over the past year, China and India have enforced higher standards on received stocks.  Mixed materials such as plastics, paper or cardboard baled together or contaminated items (or those containing unrecyclable elements)  are being rejected.  To sell our bulk recyclable materials we need to be able to separate these materials quickly and easily at the recycler depots and ensure they are contaminant free.  

The cycle starts with the householder. So there are 2 things to do.

  1. Sort and clean the recyclable items from the non-recyclable ones.
  2. Only put into the green bin those items allowed. Put them in dry, clean and loose.

What about paper food containers. What is recyclable?
Any paper food container that has been soiled with food or become damp is not recyclable and should be put in the residual bin or composted. For example, pizza boxes and other fast food or takeaway containers.  (The contamination will impact the paper recycling & re-pulping process negatively so we must avoid them).

Tip. Remember you can always just tear away or cut out soiled areas of these boxes and recycle the undamaged parts. This is worth the effort if only a small area has become contaminated. 

  • Paperboard food containers such as cereal boxes, paper egg cartons, and cake mix boxes that are unsoiled are recyclable. Just remove the plastic lining and shake out extra food crumbs.
  • Empty frozen food boxes should be placed in the recycling bin  (green bin) along with Milk and juice cartons, once washed.

What About Glass?

Glass does not go in the household recycling bin. Collect all bottles and place in glass bottle banks. You may have a separate glass bin collection in some areas but if not take the bottles to your local community bring centre. Glass can be recycled repeatedly.
Beware that not all glassware can be put in glass banks such as cookware, Pyrex, plates, cups and ceramics. And don’t forget to remove the metal or plastic lids of glass items before recycling them  These lids are generally PP plastic or metal so are recyclable in the green bin.

The recyclable list.

Paper

Newspapers 

Magazines  

Junk Mail
Phone Books
Catalogues
Tissue Boxes
Sugar Bags
Calendars
Diaries
Letters
Computer Paper
Used Beverage And Juice Cartons
Milk Cartons
Egg Boxes
Paper Brochures
School Copy Books
Old School Books (If They Cannot Be Donated Or Reused)
Paper Potato Bags

Cardboard

Food Boxes
Packaging Boxes
Cereal Boxes
Kitchen Towel Tubes
Toilet Roll Tubes

Please remove any plastic inserts from cardboard boxes before placing into bin

ALUMINIUM CANS

Drinks Cans
*Empty Deodorant Cans (Plastic Lid Separate)

STEEL CANS

Pet Food Cans
Food Cans
Biscuit Tins
Soup Tins

PLASTIC CONTAINERS (PET 1)

Mineral Bottles
Water Bottles
Mouth Wash Bottles
Salad Dressing Bottles

PLASTIC CONTAINERS (HDPE 2)

 Milk Bottles
Juice Bottles
Cosmetic Bottles
Shampoo Bottles
Household Cleaning Bottles
Laundry Detergent Bottles
Window Cleaning Bottles
Bath Room Bottles
Containers Should Be Empty When Being Placed Into Recycling Bin

PLASTIC CONTAINERS (PP 5)

Yoghurt Containers
Margarine Tubs
Rigid Food Packaging
Liquid Soap Containers
Fruit Containers (With Netting Removed)

See www.repak.ie for a full list.

What’s NOT allowed in the green bin.

Put wrappers in the residual bin – they’re not recyclable

It’s especially important to know what to leave out. These items shouldn’t be in your recycling bin:

  • Contaminated Packaging (greasy, dirty or with residue). like we said above. (Cut out contaminated areas if you can)
  • Non recyclable plastic wrappings, like sweet wrappers, Tayto bags, plastic shopping bags. These plastics are not recyclable or can damage the recycling processes used for other  recyclable plastics.
  • Nappies and Sanitary Products, medicines, medical waste (including baby wipes) – put in the residual waste bin
  • Food Waste (raw or cooked) – put in your food waste bin (if there is a collection)  or compost the cooked food in your composter.
  • Grass, Garden Cuttings / Soil – put in your composter.
  • Polystyrene (EPS) – there may be separate collection or bring to your civic amenity centre.
  • Liquids/ Oils  – bring to your civic amenity centre.
  • Textiles – including clothes/shoes and home furnishings – bring to your civic amenity centre.
  • Dismantled Furniture – bring to your civic amenity centre
  • Light Bulbs, Batteries &Electrical and Electronic Equipment (remove the plugs and re-use them)
  • Other General waste that should be in the General waste Bin. e.g. building rubble

So there you have the list and you know what to do. So do you still think you’re working for the recyclers, for free? Let us know your thoughts on our FB page .

16 Nov

Zero Waste Lifestyle –What Does It Mean?

Zero Waste Lifestyle

 

Zero Waste Lifestyle– What Does It Really Mean?

The Zero Waste lifestyle is becoming a more popular phrase  But what does it really mean. It’s far more than just recycling your disposable plastic bottle.  The Zero Waste lifestyle is about sending nothing to landfill or thermal treatment (aka Incineration). This does not mean that we do more recycling. In fact, the opposite happens. We recycle less because we find upstream ways to avoid having material to recycle in the first place.

The key to Zero Waste lifestyle is decisions!

Deciding to buy something or not. Deciding to Avoid, Refuse , Switch, Reuse and Reduce. It is a decision rich consumption lifestyle, evaluating the consequences for waste of each decision we make to acquire something. The real goal is to try to avoid landfill / incineration (the destruction of resources) and keep resources in circulation as long as possible in multiple useful life-cycles.

I may never reach ZW nirvana but I feel it is just over the horizon.

Making early choices.

As we consume resources in our daily lives (Food, products, services, stuff) the decisions made in the early part of the lifecycle have the biggest impacts. This applies to the design, manufacture and re-manufacture and support activities (maintenance) of manufacturers and the purchasing choices of consumers. In this decision making top-down approach recycling is a last resort: it is always better to avoid, refuse, reduce, re-use and repair before recycling anything. It is an iterative process because you must re-examine decisions all the time when faced with your residual waste. Simply ask how this waste is still remaining – and examine all the decisions made along the way that got you into this waste situation. Constant refinement of decisions with the end of pipe consequence in mind will ensure you progressive eliminate bad choices and reach as close as possible the Zero Waste nirvana.

I recycle all the time but I’m not at ZW nirvana just yet, It’s a journey and I’m on it, along with many other fellow travellers. ! So as a ‘ZeroWaster I’m always thinking about my residual waste, refining my earlier choices, and aspiring to do better next time. I may never reach ZW nirvana but I feel it is just over the horizon. I’m getting ever so close and I enjoy the company, support and advice of fellow travellers.

What does a Zero Waste lifestyle look like in normal life?

It’s all about doing something more and progressively trying to cut your waste. Zero Waste choices and informed decisions are your tools.

  • SEEK LONGEVITY: It is about choosing the right durable products that are well-made and built to last, that can be repaired or re-manufactured, and won’t end up in landfill/incinerators once life-expired. The Manufacturer or Supplied should have a takeback/recycling programme in force. It may cost a little more at the time you buy but it will save you money in the longer term.

    Choose Re-usable over Disposable

    Choose Re-usable over Disposable

  • SHUN DISPOSABLES: It is about choosing reusable products over single-use disposable items. There is a re-usable coffee cup in the photo below. Which one is it?
  • FAVOUR OLD over NEW: Do you really need a new item. e.g. car? Look to second-hand over new where possible, and valuing resources already in circulation.
  • SATISFY YOUR NEEDS not WANTS? Do you really need the item? Do you really need the amount on offer (e.g. special offers on food quantities than may not be right for you). You need to avoid temptations and impulse purchases and refuse anything not needed.
  • EMBRACE SHOPPING LISTS : Your best ally in the fight to remain focused on what you are going to the supermarket to buy. What’s not on the list is not needed. Make the list at home before you set off. Check your larder/fridge etc for your actual needs and volumes required and stick to it.
  • ASK QUESTIONS and QUESTION ANSWERS: It is about asking questions of the supplier and retailer to find out what they offer for recycling, maintenance and packaging recovery. How much recycled or re-manufactured content is in the product?
  • EMBRACE RE-USE: Think of novel ways to re-use your stuff or components. Find new and better ways of doing things, re-using things and substituting for unsustainable products or processes.
  • DOUBLE VISION: Think ahead. Before acquiring something think about how your relationship with it will end. Then decide the best option for a Zero Waste outcome at the end-of-useful-life point.

See more on Zero Waste lifestyle on our video page.

What does your Zero Waste lifestyle look like? Have you started your journey yet?

Take action on disposable coffee cups. Grab yourself an eCupán re-usable, collapsible coffee cup.

Photo Credits David East via Unsplash