We need to cut down on the sin bin



Nothing like festive consumption to swell the ever- growing mountain of waste we generate and a timely New Year resolution is to cut down on packaging and plastics. The amount of waste from packaging has increased by a whopping 20% in the last 20 years and, according to the European Commission, this now amounts to 177 kg annually per person which is nearly three times your own weight if you are a five foot six woman of average weight.

We could all lose some of that weight by changing our shopping habits and buying locally rather than ordering on line where products arrive swathed in packaging. There are three bins in my kitchen: one for general waste, one for recyclables and one for the badger. That one is actually for the compost heap, but I like to think that a local badger recycles any tasty waste.

One of the bins is the bane of my life. It’s the one that the plastics go in and it fills up alarmingly quickly with all manner of packaging. The stuff is annoying even before it gets dumped. Whoever designed those little tabs that you are meant to pull on resealable containers can’t ever have tried to open the wretched things. They are far too small and slippery to work so that I have to attack the  plastic film with a knife or scissors to get at the contents. I have injured myself severa≠≠l times trying to prise open those little locks on soup tubs and I have to use a champagne cork opener (inherited from Granny) to open tight plastic screw tops.

But the real worry is the sheer volume of plastic, despite all the pleas for more environmentally friendly packaging. There is no arguing with the fact that plastic is extremely useful but finding an alternative or more environmentally friendly forms of packaging is complicated.

What can I do about the three Rs, that is reduce, reuse, recycle? Going to the veggie shop, the good old- fashioned butcher or the local Friday market with my trusty willow basket for purchases helps cut down on packaging but involves extra journeys by car.

We grew a lot of our own veg last summer and we cook fresh ingredient rather than use convenience foods so that reduces packaging.

I like back to the future ideas like one in a local shop when I lived in Italy and where I went along with three different bottles to be refilled with wine, oil or vinegar. A local shop in Bray, Planet A, works on similar lines. Aimed at zero waste shopping it has all kinds of products from coffee to pasta which can be dispensed into your own containers and I notice a Go Zero site on line which lists sustainable shops around the country.

Reusing plastics, instead of the linear ‘take-make-discard’ approach, has its limits; plastic trays are good for seedlings, for storing things like reels of thread or reusing as containers. But the issue that really has me stumped is recycling.

According to the Government’s Waste Action Plan of a Circular Economy we use more plastic packaging than other EU member states. In 2020 Ireland generated 1.12 million tonnes of packaging waste with the amount of plastic packaging showing the biggest increase. The share of plastic packaging waste incinerated for energy recovery has increased from 44% in 2017 to 69% in 2019 according to the Environmental Protection Agency

In theory most plastics used in the world could be recycled as they are thermoplastics which can be melted down. But to be recycled plastic has to be exported, involving heaven knows how much fossil fuel in transport and not all of it is recyclable.. Since China closed its doors to the multi-million recycling business, most of the world’s plastic packaging for recycling ends up going to Malaysia, where it may not necessarily be recycled but will end up in enormous heaps on the ground.

Biodegradable alternatives — such as special plastics, paper or cardboard — may well have a higher greenhouse footprint because of the amount of water or natural resources consumed in their production. Compostable plastic which will biodegrade in my compost heap sounds like a more hopeful alternative. Micro=organisms break it down at the same rate as other organic materials in the compost pile, leaving no toxic residue.

That said, I am not sure that this will suit the badger.

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