Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, January 4, 2014

To recycle or not

My neighbour wrote me this note yesterday, "I have decided to start recycling and need some guide lines to what can recycle. Tins? Are they recyclable?"

Yes, Gina, cans are recyclable. Plastics are recyclable. Newspapers are recyclable. Cardboard, styrofoam, wood, metal, even food scraps are recyclable. To recycle means "to convert to reusable material." Everything we use can be converted to be reused. Some things require a process of collection to have a mass in order to be recycled in human terms. But in simple terms, the average householder can recycle most things within their space. And in planetary terms, the earth is the great recycler: absorbing and storing, and through processes that involve what we call "nature" - chemical, animal or molecular reactions - converting everything for use or reuse.

The need to see all that's around us in these terms becomes more pressing the more people on the face of the earth. There are now seven billion of us; and growing. Unless we can limit our consumption, use less, re-use and recycle, the earth will surely find ways to limit us, re-use us and remove our excesses. These are the challenges that occupy scientists of climate change and global warming. But enough of why you should recycle. Fortunately, there are systems for "converting to reuse" many household items. And what we can't yet recycle or reuse, we need to think hard about reducing or refusing to use.

So look around your home (or office or shop) and start seeing everything in terms of recycling.

Plastics: Plastikeep, a local Trinidad NGO, collects all plastics. These include styrofoam - in large or pellet form, used to package small or large appliances, meat, vegetables and fresh food - plastic bottles and their caps, bags, egg cartons etc.

Cardboard and newspapers: these are collected to remake paper and cardboard containers. Bale them with string so that they are easy to transport.

Beverage and food cans: these containers are crushed to remake other cans.

Glass: Carib Glass has long been collecting used glass bottles. They reuse their own beer bottles. The ones with the crown are returnable. In periods of high demand - Christmas and Carnival - the company also produces non-returnable beer bottles, but these are recyclable, and should be collected for the recycling bins.

Tetrapaks: It's Up To MEnvironmental has installed bins to collect these containers which were created to keep juices and milk products fresh on the shelves.

In my own home, I have a space designated for recyclables. A bin for bottles, a bin for cardboard. A bag for cans. A bag for plastics. I stack up newspapers, and break down cardboard boxes into flats. And since this is a place inside my home, this corner has to be kept neat and tidy. This means that all containers are rinsed before storing. We are fortunate to have pick up of our sorted recyclables every two weeks, so our part in "saving the environment" is relatively simple.

Recycling becomes a way of living: of thinking about the others on the face of the earth. Soon, you do not pick up anything in a shop without thinking of its component parts. You reduce consumption. You reuse - I remember my parents using sheets and towels until they were almost threadbare, and then they became floor cloths, or dog cloths. In other cultures, they created quilts and beautiful rag rugs. And you recycle.

Your mantra becomes:
Refuse - resist the sales and consumerism, refuse to buy what you don't need.
Reduce waste.
Reuse what you already have; or find another use for it.
Recycle - clean, collect your waste to be pooled and converted into useful raw materials.

Remember, fruit, vegetable and food waste can be composted.

So, Gina, we are happy to welcome you to the happy band of recyclers.

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