Waste from churches and homes can be dealt with in an efficient and environmentally-friendly manner.
We need to get away from unsustainable habits of production, consumption and disposal.
This is part of our duty to help care for God’s Creation.
Before the pandemic, household waste in the UK was decreasing slightly. The proportion recycled was increasing, but then started to go down again. Coronavirus has massively worsened our handling of waste, our failure to dispose of waste responsibly, and to recycle where this is feasible.
During lockdowns, commercial waste may have reduced, while domestic waste is likely to have risen by more, with the proportion recycled declining further. This trend will need to be reversed.
Waste that is not recycled may end up either incinerated or in landfill sites. The UK’s landfill sites are rapidly filling up, especially around London. Those around London are now actually full.
So the quantity of waste we send to landfill needs to be reduced drastically – there is little or no new space for more sites.
Unsorted waste is a huge problem. Sending our rubbish overseas for processing is not the answer. Too often, consignments are labelled as for recycling when in fact they are unsorted and mostly unfit for recycling.
Foreign governments such as those of China and Turkey have done everyone a favour by refusing to accept our unsorted or poorly sorted rubbish.
Check with your Council or private contractor where your general waste and recycling are going for processing. We need to deal with it here, responsibly, in the UK. We need to sort carefully and reliably, not contaminate the recycling stream with unrecyclable rubbish. A church’s policies and practices need to be communicated and observed by all users of its facilities.
Waste in the ocean
Plastic and packaging – especially single use plastics – need to be slashed. The ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ has become notorious in recent years.
Actually it’s not just in the Pacific anymore, if it ever was. Plastic waste, and lots of other unmentionables produced by us, are everywhere in the seas and oceans.
Every English river is now unacceptably polluted. None are free of micro-plastics, which are now even found in human tissue – ie in the fabric of our own bodies.
We are all affected by this; indeed we are eating waste of human origin together with our seafood!
Some of the waste in the ocean is thrown overboard from ships. But much also comes from the land, via the rivers.
Therefore, production of non biodegradable waste needs to be halted at source.
Littering is a no-no! We have to help to halt the nation’s littering habits. What is dropped on the road may be washed down the drains. It may overflow into the river in a storm, then it’s on its way to the sea. Litter on the beaches is especially pernicious.
Face masks are the new banana skins; except that only the latter are biodegradable. Discarded face masks can become an instrument of torture for birds and sea animals that may try to eat them, or become entangled in their straps.
The GLA and water boards have campaigned to raise awareness of the need not to drop wet wipes, nappies or other sanitary products down the drain or the toilet. This adds to fatbergs, those immense and obscene blockages that in London have to be cleared out by Thames Water.
Not to be too delicate, only pee, poo and toilet paper should go down the loo. Anything else should be binned.
Only soap and water should be washed down the sink, bath or washbasin. Food and fat should be scraped out, and binned for food recycling.
Incentives to recycling
Unfortunately, the government still does not offer incentives for recycling of non-domestic waste.
This is the responsibility of individual businesses. Churches are classified as businesses for this purpose.
Nevertheless, some local authorities provide a service to churches, but not all. Some but not all may charge for it. Check with your Council, and be prepared to consider alternatives.
Waste collection and recycling companies
The First Mile and Recorra are companies undertaking local collections of a comprehensive range of waste arisings, on a zero to landfill basis.
The First Mile collects and recycles from London Diocesan House. They are very versatile in what they can recycle.
In July 2023, London Diocesan House was awarded Silver recycling standard by First Mile.
The Waste and Recycling Advisory Programme (WRAP) advises on the handling of waste generally.
Domestic and non-domestic waste
Non-domestic waste accounts for a great majority of all waste. A large proportion of non-domestic waste is comprised of industrial waste and construction waste; both of these include much hazardous waste.
Churches with extension or reordering projects should consider that the waste generated by a single project may be more than all the other waste from the same church over several years. This should be considered at project planning stage.
Dealing with our waste
We cannot throw things ‘away’ any more – if we ever could. There is no such place as ‘away’.
Much of our waste could be cut without having any impact on our quality of life. This can be done by following the three Rs of the ‘waste hierarchy’, which, in order of preference, are:
Below are some simple, practical ways in which we can all play our part:
- Only buy what is really needed;
- Buy recycled and durable items. Even if initially more expensive, in the long term they should prove more economical. For example, reduce disposable cutlery or crockery for events;
- Avoid buying products with too much packaging;
- Avoid disposable cleaning products. For example, use cotton cloths, not kitchen roll and install roller towels rather than using disposable paper;
- Cheeky Panda supply an attractive range of sustainable toilet tissues, made from natural bamboo;
- Use email appropriately to reduce paper wastage. Remember to print (if necessary at all) on both sides of the paper. Hand notes can re-use the blank sides.
- Repair, restore or adapt what you have – use your own DIY skills and those of friends and neighbours. With electrical equipment, seek professional help;
- Donate unwanted items in good condition to charity shops; try to find a new home for old computers – there are charities who re-condition for use overseas;
- Reuse products such as containers.
- It is essential that we all recycle. In the end, raw materials will run out if we do not recycle!
- Recycling is a simple way of helping the environment every day. If your local authority does offer recycling, make sure your church participates;
- Mark recycling points with all the items that are recyclable. Assign responsibility to someone for sorting, putting out for collection, or transporting to the recycling depot;
- Compost flower, garden and kitchen waste;
- Have you considered recycling your water too?
Environment and Sustainability, front page.