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Recycling – Australia has it right

Environment: The Irish Times reports:

The State is facing a waste crisis that is threatening to bury the country, according to the Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen. He said yesterday every person in this State was now producing 700 kg of household and commercial waste a year.

‘That is three times more than they do in the Netherlands. If this continues, the figure will rise to two tonnes per person by 2015,’ he said.

Landfills in six out of 10 regions in the country had less than three years capacity left, yet people were producing enough waste to cover every single town in Ireland. ‘We have to change. Doing nothing is not an option,’ Mr Cullen said.

Well, duh. So what have they done? They’ve setup a website,, with a page on recycling replete with techie details of how recycling works, then suggesting such gems as ‘if they do not already run one, suggest to your local authority that it considers starting a plastics recycling scheme.’

Brilliant. I’m sure they’ll listen. Nice delegation, Mr Cullen!

In the meantime, apparently 92.2% of the ‘waste stream’ is sent to landfills instead of recycling.

I’m not just knocking here — the amazing thing about recycling is that it’s been done right elsewhere. All this wheel-reinvention is totally superfluous. Here’s the details on Victoria, Australia’s kerbside recycling system; it’s pretty simple.

Each household gets 1 large basin-type plastic tray thing, in which you can put washed, unsealed, recyclable plastic containers. You tie up bundles of recyclable paper into another pile when you leave out the rubbish. And finally, you get a wheelie bin for the rest; stuff that really is rubbish. The bin guys then keep the 3 types of rubbish separate when they pick it up.

Yes, it takes a little bit of time to wash the plastic containers and tie up the paper into bundles. But nobody minds; they’re doing the right thing! It’s a hell of a lot better than chucking the lot into a single container and hoping that some expensive machine at the far end can sort it all out again.

It’s also better than the current Irish and US systems, where we’re expected to bring certain kinds of trash to a centralized drop-off point ourselves. First off, this is very impractical unless you’ve got a car to do it in — and sufficient motivation to do so; and secondly, the bulkiest rubbish — packaging, paper and plastic — is not included, just glass.