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Is Recycling still a good idea in 2024?

Updated: Jun 4

We live in an ever changing world with constantly changing ideas, laws, regulations and methods of doing day to day things. The environment, climate and state of the world makes headlines on an ongoing daily basis these days. What was true and set in stone a few years back may not be so today.

Vague enough? Welcome to 2024! The world has been railing against the mass us of plastic over the last few years and rightly so. We as human beings have no idea of just how bad the micro plastic problem has become. From being found in the deepest trenches of the ocean to the possibility that our bodies cells may contain traces of microscopic plastic. Health issues related to plastic use is just around the corner. The problems exist, they are not made up!

OP Note; I wrote this back in 2023 because I felt it was an important topic. Unfortunately, only a few people actually read it so I'm wondering if this is an important issue for people at all?

Recycling to save the planet

I remember when Recycling bins were first introduced in Ireland, sometime in the 90s I believe although the exact year escapes me. I think we all felt that we were contributing to a better world and stopping the practice of sending all our waste to landfills. I think everyone over a certain age remembers what these places smelled like and how they blighted the surrounding areas. Not to mention the constant squawking birds and the exploding population of vermin. The dumps have now become recycling centres where you sort what you can and the rest goes to landfill. These sites still smell of course but now everything is sorted to reuse what can be reused. Yes, something very much needed to change and we have definitely gone in the right direction.

Change in Attitudes to Waste

Along came the idea back in the day of recycling a good portion of our waste. Where before, we just dumped without thought, now we were actively changing old bad habits. We soaked in all the information about the dos and don'ts about what goes into the bin and what should not. Most of us probably got it wrong at some stage and added items that did not belong or maybe spoiled the entire bin but that didn't change the positive sense of what we were trying to do. Once the material went in the bin, we no longer thought about it and never questioned where it went after collection.

Originally, our recycling was probably done here in Ireland or maybe sent to the UK but imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that the UK was sending their waste in 40 foot containers by the shipload to poorer countries in the Far East. Even more surprising was that these countries were shipping vast quantities of spoiled recyclables back to the UK. How much of that spoiled recycling waste came from Ireland I wonder?

Is Recycling still a good idea in 2024?

That Carbon Footprint we were all thinking we were reducing is now massive if the waste has to sail all the way there only to be returned on another ship. These poor countries also have plastics blown all over their landscapes during storms, high winds etc. The problem has just been exported out of eyeline, it hasn't gone away. The damage to these countries is plainly evident if you do a Google search for it.

Is recycling still a good idea? Would we have been better burning plastic waste in our backyards, or sending it to a local landfill? Of course we shouldn't be doing either of those things but there is a lack of transparency about where our waste products go and what is done with them. I still believe that recycling is a good idea and we should still actively sort our waste items, the sending everything to landfill alternative is a terrible thought indeed.

What we Dispose of

I'm not going to go into too much details with loads of changeable figures here, my aim is to make an example. I wouldn't have the first clue of where to go to get accurate information about where our waste actually goes so I'm not going to try. I did get some figures online which hopefully will be accurate representations. We create about 14 million tons of waste per year in Ireland across all sectors according to the EPA. Household waste is approximately 1.8 million tons which is a small percentage of the total but a lot of waste at the same time. Think about how much you throw away, daily, weekly and monthly. Now think about your neighbours, your local area, your town. Human beings can't really think that way, the mind has trouble grasping large quantities or never ending quantities. Don't believe me? Think about how large the universe can't, right?

My neighbour recently remarked to me that there were 16 plastic wrappers involved in the creation of his morning breakfast....a healthy fry-up lol. Even he hadn't realised the waste created in his household up until that point. It's something I don't really think about myself. The image below is made up but the actual reality is just as if not more ugly than this image portrays.

Mountains of Recycling Waste sent to poorer countries
Mountains of Recycling Waste

It is Not the Consumers Fault

Everyone gives out about consumers and their bad habits creating all this waste and it really annoys me everytime I hear this repeated. It is the politicians alone who bear the responsibility for all the waste we have today. They legislate policy in each country and they should create new legislation to push businesses down the road to create more environmentally friendly packaging. This can be done by carrot or a stick depending on the industry. Imagine blaming millions or even billions of consumers instead of pushing one or two companies to change their habits. It doesn't make sense, does it?

Who Actually Runs This World?

According to a Forbes article about corporate control, there are 147 intertwined companies or corporations if you'd like, that control the entire world. Imagine the lobbying power of the parent companies and how much control or influence they can have over the political elites.

Does it make sense other than for taxation purposes to keep blaming billions of ordinary people to get us to change our ways? No, it doesn't! Sure, it will cost an enormous amount of money to make the necessary changes but we are going to pay for it in the form of taxation or product price increases anyway. The technology for biodegradable packaging already exists but the vast majority of packaging is still produced using Oil. The Oil producers certainly don't want this to disappear overnight, do they?

Taxation Will Solve this Looming Crisis

Give me a break will you. Every time I hear Climate Crisis or Plastic Waste Problem on the TV or Radio I just know there is a new tax coming down the pipeline. We've all started paying Climate taxes in the last few years yet none of it actually seems to go into new technology that reduces CO2 levels. Wind Farms and Solar Panels will only do so much to reduce emissions but fossil fuel energy plants will still exist. We buy 'Bags for Life' in shops instead of disposable bags and we pay for that privilege. We use privatised waste collection services which cost far more now than ever before to sort and deal with all waste, both recycling and landfill.

I've gone a little off topic here but the same applies to changing plastic packaging over to something that is easily biodegradable. We will all end up paying for that change at some point, it just seems that we are not moving in that direction at all. Eventually, our polluted world will reach a crisis point at which stage everyone will have to get off their arse and do something.

Political and Corporate Policies are largely to blame for the waste and pollution in our world
Why don't politicians and Global Companies do Something?

The Re-Turn System in Ireland

This system was in the pipeline in Ireland for a long while and has been activated in March 2024. It was successful in other European countries so they decided to bring it in here. Basically, you bring all your plastic bottles to a shop or designated point where Re Turn machines are based. Bottles are fed in one at a time and you get a credit not for all accepted bottles. A an extra charge is placed on each bottle when you buy and you are supposed to reclaim that when you scan your bottles.

Is the Re Turn System working?

No, the system is a disaster. There is already millions of Euro uncollected and people have returned to using their recycling bins as before and losing their deposit money. So many bottles were being rejected by the machines or the machines were out of order that a lot of people ended up putting the bottles in their recycling bins as they always have. Most people view this as a wasteful extra method of taxation instead of being for the environment. The machines cost money to run, repair & maintain and the bottles have to be collected from each of these locations and brought to a main sorting centre.

A Better System?

A better system would have been to use the existing private waste management centres around the country who would have to create a new area for drop off and storage for plastic bottles separate to all the other facilities. Ordinary reusable large plastic bags could be used to transport the bottles here by the public where they would be weighed or counted or some other method to calculate. A person's mobile phone number could be used at the drop off centre where you can link your credit to an account. A simple secure website could have been created where you could log in and add your details including preferred payment method. Obviously a more thought out system could have been created for far less money and hassle but someone in the government is making a few bob out of this so they don't care. Like everything thing else in Ireland; it's not about the good of the country, it's about taxation.


The final title here is conclusion but there really is no conclusion to the issue of plastic waste until major changes are made. Stop blaming the general public for these issues and get our so called leaders to start tackling these problems without lumping on more taxes onto an already struggling working public. There are solutions to plastic out there but companies are still making money from oil based plastic production and this will not change until politicians make them change. If you are an ordinary Joe or Mary, keep doing what you are doing with the recycling and the next time a politician comes to your door maybe mention that they need to do something about the waste issue. They will probably smile at you in agreement and then let your comment fall by the wayside. We have to think of future generations and stop kicking the can down the road.

If you would like to add a comment, please do so below. Thanks for reading, David

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