Let’s move past throwaway culture
2018-11-01 14:37:41 -


By Mohammed Samaana


Recently while doing my shopping I met a friend who had just been live on air on BBC Radio Ulster. He said he had been having a debate wih a woman about the importance of recycling. My immediate reaction was “Debating? What was her argument against recycling?” He told me that she expressed a belief that life is too short to do recycling.

The fact that BBC Radio Ulster gave airtime to such views is more shocking than the extraordinary views themselves. I remember when I had to carry my newspapers and plastic bottles to the city centre, the only place where recycling bins were available. Nowadays, such bins and bags are provided freely by the council and we just need to put recyclable waste in them instead of the rubbish bin, though many people who use them still put the wrong material in the wrong bin.

To look at the positive side, however, it seems that the glass is half full. About half of the rubbish produced by homes of the North gets recycled and only 32 per cent goes to landfill, which is an all-time low.

However, when food waste ends up in landfill sites instead of being recycled, it will produce methane, a greenhouse gas which is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide and is damaging to air quality as well as the environment. Additionally, sending food waste to landfill costs the council £50 more per tonne than when it sends it for recycling. Considering that about 125,000 tonnes of food waste are produced annually, there is potential to save £6m per year.

For those who think life is too short to recycle, they still can reduce their waste, though there is a ban on throwing food in rubbish bins.

An important part of the problem is that a lot of us buy more than what we need, which generates more waste. Several times I’ve seen unopened loaves of bread and packs of cereal that fell from tipped-over bins.

This explains why from time to time I see people looking for food in rubbish bins, which is a reflection of the socio-economic inequalities that exist in society.

On average, each family throws away £60 a month, or about £700 a year, in food and drinks that could have been eaten. The figures for the Republic are quite similar, with every household throwing away about €700-1,000 worth of food each year. Sixty per cent of the food waste in the south includes fruits and vegetables that have gone off, food that passed its expiry date, and leftovers.

A lot of this waste can actually be prevented if people considered freezing food before throwing it away. Meat, bread and different types of vegetables can be kept longer in the freezer. In fact, all supermarkets sell frozen meats, vegetables and cooked meals.

It is certainly in everyone’s interest to reduce waste and to move beyond throwaway culture. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. It is as simple as that. We always need to remember that there are a lot of people who can’t afford to buy food and rely on food banks either at home or away in places like Syria and Yemen. Life might be short, but throwing food that will damage the environment and the air we breathe will make it even shorter.


Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.

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