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Rubbish answers

Editorial, Guardian
… Britain is getting better at collecting waste, but not at treating it once it has been bundled up. Of the 8.6m tonnes of paper saved each year for reuse only 4m can be pulped in this country. The rest – along with plenty of old glass and plastic – must be exported. Much of it has been going to China, where demand has been strong and labour cheap. This globalised answer to Britain’s aversion to rubbish reduces the environmental case for recycling in the first place. It also leaves the industry precariously exposed to the whims of world markets.

… The result has been an upsurge in applications to store waste rather than recycle it, in the hope that prices recover. But what if they do not? Lord Smith, the head of the Environment Agency, last month called on councils to hold their nerve and keep collecting. Most, it seems, are doing just that. But the flaw in the way this country deals with its waste is obvious. A model that depends on foreign buyers wanting to pay for British waste cannot be sustained. At its worst, it misleads citizens, who dutifully sort their waste for recycling, and assume it is being treated responsibly, when it is not.

One answer is for Britain to produce less waste in the first place. The opportunities for this are enormous. But two other things should change too. The first is for Britain to develop a bigger domestic recycling industry of its own, which would cut down on the need to find foreign customers, and on the energy needed to move waste.
(2 January 2009)
Related from the Guardian: ‘Pay as you throw’ household waste trial shunned by councils.

One Woman’s Trash Is Another Woman’s…Lingerie?

Joel Millman and Robert Guy Matthews, Wall Street Journal
Falling Prices for Recyclables Result in a Glut of Garbage, Leaving a Bounty of Raw Materials for Enterprising Artists

Even though gift-giving was relatively stingy this Christmas season, enough stuff changed hands to generate plenty of leftover trash. And that means good tidings for the artists who transform cast-offs into commodities.

Falling prices for recycled paper means Christmas trash this year is worth only a fraction of what it fetched last year, leaving only a few winners in this market. WSJ’s Joel Millman reports.

Curbsides and trash bins are suddenly overflowing with bags, boxes and other booty that will become the raw material for creations ranging from candle holders to jewelry to undergarments.

“Ross Dress for Less has a bag, a solid gray, that I love,” said Barbara De Pirro of Shelton, Wash., a 49-year-old “eco artist” who crochets handbags and baskets out of ribbons cut from shopping bags. While she also treasures a “beautiful royal blue” that Nordstrom’s department stores use, her true love is a bright red sack with silver lining from Target Stores that leaves her almost misty-eyed.

One reason for the bounty is that recyclable holiday trash this season is worth only a fraction of what it fetched a year ago. Haulers, recyclers, brokers and vendors of American trash, who usually rejoice this time of year when waste paper, plastic and cardboard pile up, are joyless amid the world-wide economic slump.
(2 January 2009)

Paradise lost on Maldives’ rubbish island

Randeep Ramesh, Guardian
It may be known as a tropical paradise, an archipelago of 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. But the traditional image of the Maldives hides a dirty secret: the world’s biggest rubbish island.

A few miles and a short boat ride from the Maldivian capital, Malé, Thilafushi began life as a reclamation project in 1992. The artificial island was built to solve Malé’s refuse problem. But today, with more than 10,000 tourists a week in the Maldives adding their waste, the rubbish island now covers 50 hectares (124 acres).

So much is being deposited that the island is growing at a square metre a day. There are more than three dozen factories, a mosque and homes for 150 Bangladeshi migrants who sift through the mounds of refuse beneath palm-fringed streets.

Environmentalists say that more than 330 tonnes of rubbish is brought to Thilafushi a day. Most of it comes from Malé, which is one of the world’s most densely populated towns: 100,000 people cram into 2 square kilometres.

Brought on ships, the rubbish is taken onshore and sifted by hand. Some of the waste is incinerated but most is buried in landfill sites. There is, say environmental campaigners, also an alarming rise in batteries and electronic waste being dumped in Thilafushi’s lagoon.
(3 January 2009)