Recycling and the treatment of our waste have become important topics in the fight against plastic pollution. Do you know where your waste goes once your black bag is emptied? It does not always make for comfortable reading as waste can be shipped thousands of miles to be processed (or not) in developing countries rather than recycled in the modern, clean facilities we might imagine.
The famous 3 'R's of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle have been added to in recent years - Refuse and Rot. In our modern throw-away society Reducing and Refusing packaging waste can be two of the best ways the consumer can take control of the amount of rubbish their household produces. Whether that is by refusing single-use items (e.g. coffee cups, plastic bottles and straws) or voting with your feet and refusing to buy from supermarkets with a history of over-packaging, there are lots of ways to reduce your waste.
As an island we feel the effects of waste more than most, looking out to sea and watching the Gannets fill their nests with old nets or walking along the beach to find rubbish washed up both from home or much further afield. Perhaps consider a 2 minute beach clean next time you're out and about, invest in a reusable bottle/cup or simply think before you flush - cotton buds and wipes should NOT go down the toilet - they will end up on your beach. Head to the Clean Coasts website to see their infographic on marine litter and how enters the ocean.
Recycling remains an important link in the waste chain, which is why we are working with the States of Alderney to produce better information displays so we can all recycle better. Here are our 5 big recycling questions, answered by the States Works department:
1. What can be recycled in Alderney?
Paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminium and steel cans, polystyrene and some other types of plastic. A large amount of plastic is not recyclable because there is a very limited market for it and there are so many different types making it hard to sort. Here we can only recycle clear plastics e.g. clear food trays and pots. The remainder is burnt for refuse derived fuel.
2. Where does our recycling go?
After being sorted here at the recycling centre all of Alderney’s waste is shipped to Guernsey at present, both recyclable and general. Our recycling is sent to Fontaine Vinery where it is sorted by a large team and landfill is sent to Mayside.
However, Guernsey landfill is close to capacity and they have recently signed a deal with Sweden to ship their waste there for use in energy production. Jersey have also just created a new incinerator and it has not yet been decided where Alderney’s waste will be sent. Modern incinerators produce much less harmful gas than in the past, with all the filtration systems it takes 2 days between burning a bag and releasing anything into the atmosphere.
3. How much of Alderney’s rubbish is recycled?
Currently about 70% of Alderney’s waste is NOT recycled – so we could do better! In the UK the average recycling rate is 45% (although this varies within counties), with EU targets for 50% by 2020. In 2015 52% of the recycling we sent to Guernsey was cardboard, 32% paper, 13% plastic and the remaining 3% steel and aluminium. In total that year there was 98 tonnes of scrap, including 122 cars – this is processed in Guernsey and then shipped for use in Europe.
4. How is our recycling different to the UK?
The main difference is scale – as we operate on such a small one. Even when compared to Guernsey, the waste Alderney ships out (free of charge, the government only pay haulage) is tiny in comparison. The plants operating in the UK mainly run without people, with small sorting sections near the end. Due to demand it is still better for Channel Islands facilities to use human sorters in our facilities. The entire waste management team in Alderney consists of only eight people to cover all aspects of the island's waste stream, so it’s not an easy job. If everyone here took a little more time to sort through their waste e.g. paper from card and sorting their recyclable plastics a lot of time would be saved for the team here.
5. What improvements could be made in the future?
Essentially Alderney’s recycling centres and technology need an update, as it has been going for 10+| years without much change. There is potential to one day be self-sufficient with our waste if it is well managed and controlled.
More recycling points around the island would help, possibly with a view to having all bins with recycling points for plastic, cans and paper as well as general waste similar to big cities to the UK.
The States would like to improve our management of green waste, as there is a lot of work to be done on this site. In future it would be good to have a manned station similar to the impot – currently 50% of waste brought to the site is inappropriate for the type of shredder we have and nothing is done with the chippings produced.
All of these decisions take time, especially in a small island like Alderney – any change requires infrastructure to be in place beforehand and agreement from a lot of different parties. Fortunately Alderney seems to have a positive view of our recycling efforts, and the sooner we can implement these changes the better for our island and its wider environment