Waste is a Resource Not Rubbish

23 August 2021

Waste is a Resource Not Rubbish
This is s shortened version of a blog which first appeared on MyNI, a hub for Northern Ireland Climate Action. 
arc21’s acting Chief Executive, Tim Walker, takes a look at the importance of treating waste as a resource rather than rubbish, and the impact our waste is having on climate change and the wider environment. These include:
Greenhouse Gas emissions
Whilst it is positive that policymakers have realised that we need to drastically reduce our Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) emissions, it is important to note that not all GHGs are created equal. Whilst much talk of GHGs focuses on carbon dioxide, much more potent methane is produced by waste rotting in landfills, and this is 84 times more impactful than carbon dioxide over the critical time period set to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.
Illegal waste disposal
Whilst society has made leaps in its attitude towards the environment, the actions of some fall short of these aspirations. Indeed, due to the expense of dealing with waste correctly, some see this as an “opportunity” from which has resulted much illegal activity.
As a case in point, Northern Ireland is home to one of the largest illegal dumps in Europe at Mobouy, near Campsie. This illegal dump contains more than 1 million tonnes of illegally disposed waste which has threated drinking water supplies to Derry-Londonderry due to its proximity to the river Faughan.
Single-Use Plastic
Single-Use Plastic is exactly as described: single-use. This material cannot be reused or recycled, instead it breaks down into smaller and smaller micro-plastic pieces which washes into the oceans, is absorbed by plankton, eaten by fish and then, eventually, through to us.
The waste hierarchy and the four ‘Rs’ – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover
Every year, households within the arc21 region produce 15 million black bins worth of rubbish that cannot be recycled. This rubbish is currently sent to landfill or exported overseas where it is incinerated, neither of these options are environmentally or financially sustainable. The best way to manage waste is to produce less waste in the first instance – this will require considerable work at a national level between Government and industry. However, where reduction is not possible, the waste hierarchy needs to be supported though reuse, recycling and recovery.
Rubbish as a resource
We need to incorporate waste into the Circular Economy by changing our attitude and behaviours to waste, using new approaches to increase recycling, and dealing with what’s left over (the residual rubbish that cannot be recycled) responsibly.  We need new infrastructure to do this.
Sustainable Purchasing
As consumers we need to think before we buy and use our collective bargaining power. If everyone made more sustainable choices when buying “stuff”, business would respond. We need to think carefully about how much we consume. Do we really need so much?
There are huge opportunities and with the right public support we could address our addiction to consumption and change how much we produce. Realistically this will probably take a generation. Until then, we need to face up to our responsibilities and recognise the opportunities – not least those which we can realise from using our rubbish better and more sensibly while we journey to a better future.
The full blog entry can be read on MyNI’s website here