Tânia Rocha | August 09, 2019

What do you know about recycling?

As long as I remember, many questions about recycling have been asked in Subvisual such as:

  • Do we have to wash plastic and aluminum food containers?

  • Is it possible to recycle fatty pizza paper containers?

  • Why should we sort in the office if the cleaning lady will mix it all?

Also, all of us have heard of those common excuses for not recycling from our friends/family:

  • “I saw the town truck mixing paper and plastic, so I won’t sort them in my home anymore. They’ll get mixed eventually.”

  • “We don't need to sort them at home because they have a magic machine that automatically sorts plastic, paper, and glass.”

So, my colleague at Subvisual, Helena, decided to schedule a visit to Braval, the company responsible for carrying out recycling and treatment of solid waste of 6 countries in the north of Portugal. Some of us from Aurora joined the train.

We were kindly received by Pedro and Isabel, from Braval. They normally receive children trips, who learn about recycling at schools and are usually familiar with the procedure. But adults are responsible for spreading wrong ideas about recycling and it’s them who can provide a situation for their children to practice what they've learned at school. That’s why Pedro and Isabel were happy to receive us.

They showed us Braval and explained their responsibilities in the recycling process and then we asked our big list of questions. In the end, we were guided throughout their facilities showing the multiple steps of the waste inside Braval.

Paper waste recycling plant by Bas Emmen on Unsplash
Paper waste recycling plant by Bas Emmen on Unsplash

What I’ve noted for my recycling routine

  • It’s not necessary to wash plastics or metals;

  • Pizza containers with a few pieces of fat can go to blue recycling drop-off container;

  • We can save fried oil and give to Braval instead of throwing it out and contaminating our water;

  • Plastic and paper are transported by Braval in the same truck for resources optimization, but they don't mix them up (glass is always transported separately);

  • There isn’t any big machine that sort waste automatically. All the waste that we don’t put in recycling drop-off containers will end up on landfills;

  • I shouldn't mix paper and plastic in the same bag as I used to do since paper can be easily contaminated by liquids on plastic containers;

  • Old household appliances can be given to Braval or directly to the store where you’ll buy the new one;

  • There are some European recycling targets for 2020 that my country, Portugal, won't be able to accomplish 😔

I had no idea about those recycling targets, so I went to the European Commission's website and picked up the most interesting information about the Environment Action Programme👇

Environment Action Programme

European facts:

  • Europeans currently use 16 tonnes of material per person per year, of which 6 tonnes become waste;

  • In 2010, total waste production amounted to 2,5 billion tons. From this total, only 36% was recycled, with the rest was landfilled or burned, of which some 600 million tons could be recycled or reused;

  • Each person alone is currently producing, on average, half a tonne of household waste, of which only 40% of it is reused or recycled and in some countries, more than 80% still goes to landfill.

In 2014 the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) set out a vision of where it wants the Union to be by 2050:

In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits.

Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.

These are the three key objectives:

  • To protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital;

  • To turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy;

  • To safeguard the Union's citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing.

Targets

Waste2020202520302035
Municipal waste50%55%60%65%
Landfill10%
All packaging waste65%70%
Plastic50%55%
Wood25%30%
Ferrous metals70%80%
Aluminium50%60%
Glass70%75%
Paper and cardboard75%85%

2018 early report

To help Member States meet the 2020 target, the Commission has already conducted its first early warning study. Based on an in-depth review of Member States’ recycling performance and waste policies, 14 Member States have been identified as at risk of missing the 2020 target of 50%. These are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain.

Portugal

In 2016, Portugal’s municipal waste recycling rate (including composting) reported to Eurostat was 31%, while its landfilling rate was 45%. Based on an analysis of existing and firmly planned policies in the area of waste management, Portugal is considered at risk of missing the 2020 target of 50% preparation for reuse/recycling of municipal waste.

👉 Environment Action Programme information from European Commission.

How about your country? Do you know if your country will be able to accomplish the recycling targets? Recycling is one of the most important parts of the sustainability loop, and each of us can make a difference with just little actions during the day. Another way to be more sustainable is being less wasteful, here are some tips from the European Commission 👇

10 tips on how to be less wasteful

Think before you buy!

Is the product recycled or recyclable? This will reduce the environmental impact as a new product has not had to be made from raw material.

Avoid packaging waste: food packaged into separate compartments or presented as a mini-kit is not only more expensive but also produces more waste.

Buy the amount of fresh food you will use and enjoy your leftovers by turning them into exciting new dishes.

Use reusable and high-quality batteries which last longer and produce less waste. Spent batteries in the household rubbish contain harmful chemicals that can leak into the earth and water. Collect them separately! Your local authorities, supermarkets or electronic retailers can dispose of them safely.

Reusable products are better than disposable products such as paper napkins, plastic razors and plastic cups which use more resources and energy than their reusable counterparts and quickly end up in a landfill.

Think before you throw!

Old clothing has all sorts of innovative uses. As well as raising money for charity, clothing can also be shredded and turned into packaging, insulation or raw material for textiles.

Paint and other waste can be taken to a specialized recycling center. If you do not have access to one then let the paint dry, add sawdust or cat litter, and place it in the dustbin.

Non-meat kitchen scraps can become fertile soil. Build a compost bin either in your garden or even a small one in your house. A good ‘recipe’ is to layer carbon materials (dry leaves, shredded paper, dead plants) with nitrogen materials (green weeds, grass, non-meat kitchen scraps) in a 3 to 1 ratio.

Recyclable glass can be taken to your local bottle bank, but do not leave it in your car until your next trip as the added weight will increase both fuel use and emissions.

If you cannot give away or sell your old furniture, recycle it. Check if your local authority collects furniture for recycling or perhaps there are charities in your area that will be happy to take it off your hands.

Last but not least: have you ever wondered what happens to your package after you separate it and put it in recycling containers? If your answer is no, check those curiosities from pontoverde 👇

Making new from old

Plastic

It is really surprising how many different kinds of things are made from recycled plastic. Something as simple as a detergent bottle can be turned into plastic flowerpots, water pipes, garden tables, or wadding for jackets. A water bottle can be used to make fiber for the textile industry, which is then used as fleece for T-shirts and sweaters.

Metal

Recycled steel and aluminium are used to make everyday items like gas burners. Your car probably has many parts that owe their existence to the tins that you put in the drop-off container.

Glass

Did you know that all used glass (cullet) is used to make bottles, tubs, and jars? In fact, almost all glass produced in Portugal contains cullet from recycled glass.

Paper

Recycled paper is used in the manufacture of newsprint, cardboard boxes, corrugated cardboard boxes, toilet paper, kitchen rolls, cardboard packaging and much more. And, despite what you might think, the recycled paper does not just go to make the rustic items you see at the stationer’s, but is far more widely used.

Wood

Wood is used to make fibreboard, which is part of most of the furniture we have at home.

So, don’t forget to recycle and spread the word ♻️