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What, where… Why?

Packaging labels and recycling symbols are used to guide citizens to make the right choices when disposing of their waste. Correct disposal of packaging is vitally important to the circular economy, so that our consumption of resources is as efficient as possible.

We have developed a set of MyWaste Recycling Labels specifically for the Irish market. In Ireland waste management operates differently than it does across Europe – most packaging materials accepted at the kerbside or at Civic Amenity Centres are exported for recycling or disposal. It is therefore even more important that consumers searching for information about how to dispose of their packaging are given the information applicable to Ireland.

What do the Symbols Mean?

This label applies to all items which will be sorted, baled and shipped for recycling.

These items fall into three main categories

Paper and Card

Some examples of these are:

Rigid Plastic

Some examples of these are:

Tins and cans

Some examples of these are:

Other Items Allowed:

All items need to be presented

Clean

Dry

Loose

This will ensure that the maximum amount of materials will be baled and shipped for processing. If you fail to follow these simple rules it could potentially mean that one dirty item will contaminate your whole bin and it may be diverted and sent to landfill or for incineration.

All items need to be loose so that they can be easily sorted but more importantly, if they are loose we know exactly what’s in there, as there could be some food hiding in a box or bag. If items are in a bag, the bag with all of its contents could be diverted even if it contains only recyclable material

These items require a little bit of work from you

Unfortunately these items are not currently accepted in the recycling bin in Ireland

Images for both to follow 

Here’s the story behind plastics but it's also a similar story for all items and why it's important to keep them in circulation

In 1953 the writer Leonard E. Read wrote a short story from the point of view of a pencil. Leonard Read asked a simple question with a complicated answer: Who makes a pencil, and how?

I, Pencil took the reader on a journey across the world. The logging fields of Oregon produced the wood for the barrel of the pencil. The Graphite mines of Sri Lanka produced the lead, and so on.

Leonard Read showed us the fundamental truth of the modern economy. Millions of human beings produce this one, simple pencil. Each part of the production process usually takes place for a profit. The pencil is a complex combination of miracles, directed by no one person. Nobody knows enough to actually produce even one, simple pencil on their own. Don’t even get me started on the sharpener.

That was 1953. The world economy is 100 times more complex, concentrated, and circular 65 years later.

Consider a single tub of yoghurt or carton of milk consumed somewhere in Ireland. Like Leonard Read, let’s ask: Who makes it, and how? But let’s go beyond 1953. Who recycles it, and how?

All plastics come from oil. Oil comes from all over the world. The oil gets processed into plastic pellets. Plastics are a huge, huge global business. The turnover of the European plastics industry is €360 billion per year. For a sense of scale, that’s about one and a half times bigger than the entire Irish economy.

The plastic pellets get melted. The molten plastic is injection-moulded into various forms. These forms head to processors in sheets. They get made into something, let’s say yogurt tubs milk cartons. Someone sends a package of yoghurts or cartons of milk to your local shop via a network of distributors. You buy it there to enjoy at your table. Billions of euros’ worth of capital equipment get used. Think about the complexity of it all. It’s an unbroken global chain. The oil rigs. The injection moulding factories. The distribution networks and the shopping centres. Millions of engineers, supply chain managers, and quite a few cows, too. All so you can enjoy that yoghurt or milk. So, enjoy.

Who Recycles it, and how?

You enjoyed your yoghurt or milk. Nom. What happens next? You wash the tub or carton out and left it to dry out. Both of these examples are rigid plastics, so you pop it into your recycling bin filled with other clean, loose, dry material.

If you’re wrecked one evening and don’t wash out the pot or rinse that milk carton, you can potentially contaminate your entire bin or bag of recycling. Which means that your bin might get sent to one of Ireland’s 3 or 4 rapidly-filling landfills. 95% of the potential economic value in plastic packaging currently goes to waste. We are throwing money in the bin.

So why can’t I place some plastics, such as soft plastics in the recycling bin?

Recycling is very big business. All plastics are recyclable in theory. In practice, it only pays to recycle some types of plastics. Rigid plastics.

The prices paid for rigid plastics are by weight. International re-processors pay for a clean, uncontaminated product. We contaminate an estimated 40% of our plastics in Ireland, which is below the EU average.

Soft plastics, like cling film, are a different story. Soft plastics go into your non-recycling bin. Soft plastics don’t pay to recycle. You need an awful lot of clean, uncontaminated cling film before the economics make sense. So into the non-recycling bin the soft plastics go.

If you are reading this thinking ‘I don’t want to help make some foreign company rich’, consider the alternative. Without the global recycling industry, those plastics would clog our landfills faster. We would have to build recycling facilities. By recycling well, and for a profit, these firms are helping save the environment. By helping them, we help ourselves. The point of Leonard E. Read’s story of I, Pencil is to show how we are all interconnected. These interconnections define the shape of our economy.

Don’t put soiled soft plastics in with your rigid plastics. You could undo all the good work you, and your neighbours have done with the rest of your recycling.

Technology changes. Markets change. In the future soft plastics might get recycled the way we recycle rigid plastics. But for now, we separate them.

Leonard E. Read wanted us to understand what a vast undertaking producing a single pencil was. Today’s circular products need production and reproduction across the global economy. This is a vast and complex re-combination of miracles. The more we recycle by separating rigid and soft plastics, the better off we’ll all be.