September 25, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: I want to be green but I’m seeing red instead

There will soon be more plastic than fish in the sea, says the World Economic Forum. I wonder who is doing the counting? Indestructible plastic drifts from beach to beach and it is  hard to get those pesky fish to stay still.

But it’s no laughing matter.  A scientific group called the Ellen MacArthur Foundation conducted the survey for the Forum and it did it by weight, not numbers.

It estimates that, by 2050, plastic in our oceans will outweigh the marine life. You don’t need to take their word for it;  just walk along any popular beach on the morning after a nice summer day and see for yourself.

I am lucky enough to live near a fine strand and I like to take a stroll there before the crowds come out or the sun gets up.

In the most popular spots, it can be like walking through a rubbish tip. There are discarded portable barbecues, disposable nappies, enough cans to fill several sacks, and more plastic bottles than cans.
The beach cleaners take away a stack of the stuff but inevitably a lot of the plastic gets lifted by the tide and ends up in the sea.

Local authorities are  pleading with the public to be more responsible. If followed, their most effective message is the simplest one: take your rubbish home with you.

Bring it home and put it in your recycling bin. At that stage, though, I have a problem..

I have two bins. Some people have three and some four. So what should go into my green bin and why, if my waste  is being properly recycled, do other people need the third and fourth bins?

Online you can find lengthy lists of recyclable products. Mywaste.ie, a government-funded site, provides reams of information in five languages and an A to Z list of what to put where. Since the guide is the length of War and Peace, I doubt if many read it all in any language. But the key clause says the green bin can take “paper and cardboard .. .’Tetra Pak’ cartons for juice or milk … rigid plastic  … and tins and cans (washed and dried)”.

So in it goes … but, whoa, what’s this? Instructions on the fruit juice carton tell me the box can go in the green bin but the plastic top is “not widely recycled yet”.

So what’s the plan? Should I save all the tops and have a grand dumping ceremony when the day dawns that they are widely recycled?

The small bottle of water – which I refill, but sometimes have to replace – instructs me that the container is “widely recycled”, but for the cap I must “check local recycling” and, most oddly, that the label, which to my untrained eye is made of paper, is “not currently recycled”.

The capsules for my coffee maker boast of being “fully compostable” but instructions on the side of the box warn: “Do not throw capsules into garden waste collections.” Instructions on the back of the same box advise: “Throw used capsules in the food waste bin”.

So which of my two bins can take these capsules?

There are dozens of these irregularities and we  need a law to sort them out, preferably one that instructs manufacturers  to use recyclable packaging throughout, but, failing that, one that obliges them to make their instructions clear.

All of the items I have mentioned carry a symbol that looks like an arrow inside a circle. This, apparently, is called a ‘green dot’, although on some labels it is black, not green. It doesn’t really matter what colour it is because the symbol is meaningless. As mywaste.ie explains, this arrow  is “not in itself a recycling symbol nor does it mean that the packaging material on which it is marked is either recycled, or made using recyclable content.”

Another symbol shows a wheelie bin with a large X across it. This symbol, I am told, “is only asking you not to litter. It does not relate to recycling but is a reminder to be a good citizen.”

I’ll try to remember that. But it’s not much help when I’m deciding what to recycle and where.

I care about recycling but, like most of us probably, I don’t care all that much. I’ll do what I’m told but I need clear instructions not conflicting messages and confusing symbols.

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