What Happens to Your Waste After You Throw It Away?
Waste occurs when items, such as food or packaging, are discarded because they're no longer wanted or needed. It can be collected and treated in a variety of different ways, and the UK government is under instruction from the European Union to reduce the amount of waste it produces and increase the amount it recycles.
Individuals and businesses have a duty of care over their waste, even after it's left their home or premises, and failure to take reasonable steps to ensure waste is property sorted and disposed of can result in prosecution and a £5,000 fine.
How Waste is Treated
Councils collect waste, which has been separated into different types:
- Recycling: Paper, plastic, glass and cans can all be recycled. Paper is pulped, de-inked and turned into newspaper or cardboard. Plastic bottles are washed, melted and turned into new bottles, fleeces or plastic pipes. Glass is crushed, mixed with raw materials and melted in a furnace to produce new bottles and jars. Cans are shredded, melted and used to make new cans.
- Food and Garden Waste: Organic materials make up a significant part of household waste and are composted after collection. Waste is checked to ensure no inorganic materials are mixed in, and then it's broken down using various micro-organisms and turned into fertiliser and soil conditioner, which is used to help plants grow.
- General Waste: General waste is anything collected from households and businesses that cannot be recycled or composted. Traditionally, general waste goes to landfill sites – typically a hole in the ground such as an old mine, which is covered over when full. However, other methods are now used, such as incinerators, where waste is burned and used to make electricity and heat.
Individuals and businesses have a duty of care to ensure specialist waste is collected and disposed of correctly. This includes:
- Confidential Waste: Any waste with personal or confidential information must be carefully stored, collected, shredded and then recycled.
- Hazardous Waste: Anything harmful to people or the environment is classed as hazardous, and includes fluorescent tubes, toner cartridges, batteries, industrial chemicals and asbestos. These items need to be separated and disposed of at special controlled sites, which are carefully regulated and monitored.
- Healthcare Waste: Waste produced by hospitals, surgeries, dentists, vets, etc. requires specialist disposal and treatment at specialist plants. This includes high temperature incineration at a minimum of 1,100 degrees centigrade.
The Problem of Fly-Tipping
Fly-tipping is when waste is dumped illegally on private or public land. It's a serious environmental problem, and can pollute the land and nearby waterways. It also makes an area look neglected and can encourage vermin.The majority of people fly-tip because they want to avoid landfill charges to dispose of waste properly. It's thought the cost to local authorities of fly-tipping is in excess of £100m per year.
If an individual or business pays someone to take their waste away, whether it's a man-with-a-van, builder, gardener, or skip-hire company, they must ensure whoever they're hiring is properly licensed to carry waste and will dispose of it correctly. Asking to see their original licence is an important step to prevent fly-tipping.
Waste disposal and its effects on the environment is a growing problem, so it's essential to do your part and dispose of your waste properly.
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