06 July 2018

Meet Our Recycling Ambassadors

Meet Our Recycling Ambassadors

Sylvia - Eastern Midlands Region Recycling Ambassador

Sylvia Thompson works mainly as a journalist, writing on health and environmental issues for The Irish Times. She has written about recycling, re-use and zero waste initiatives as well as the circular economy. She is passionate about protecting and enjoying Ireland’s natural and built environment.

"For years, people in Ireland basked in the glory of being one of Europe’s top recycling nations.  We recycled almost 80 per cent of glass, paper and cardboard and thought we were wonderful.  Nobody paid much attention until recently that we only recycled about 40 per cent of plastic.

However, dig down into the recycling figures and a different picture emerges.  Up to one third of what we do recycle is contaminated.    And, we use more plastic – mainly for packaging - than any other European country.

These are the first things I tell people at the recycling workshops that I’ve been facilitating for the Voice Ireland Recycling Ambassador programme.  And, the funny thing is that most people know instinctively that lots of what is put in household recycling bins shouldn’t be there.  They also often know that chucking dirty food containers into their recycling bin isn’t good practice but yet, they need someone to tell them directly that everything has to be “clean, dry and loose” before they move away from their bad habits.

So, my aim at these workshops has been to change the mindsets of those who attend: move them away from the practice of seeing their recycling bins as a general dumping ground for all kinds of paper, cardboard and plastic to thinking about whether what they put in can be genuinely recycled through their household recycling scheme.

I explain how everything in a recycling plant is divided into three main streams – paper and cardboard, plastics and aluminium and steel. Then, I talk about how recycling saves the use of new or primary materials and allows us all to be active citizens on this finite planet of ours.  I talk about how plastic pellets are made into fleeces, running shoes, garden benches and lots more.

As I sift my way through a large box of what is and isn’t recyclables at the workshops, I find that people are genuinely shocked by the amount of single use plastic - drinking straws, coffee cups, soft drinks bottles, plastic cutlery - and plastic packaging – that is generated in Ireland.  Once you tell your audience that about one million single use coffee cups are used every day in Ireland, they realise that this phenomenal level of waste has to stop.

In a nutshell, I think the Voice Ireland recycling workshops have been part of a wake-up call to householders in Ireland.  Other campaigns such as Stop Food Waste and the Conscious Cup Campaign have also increased awareness of unnecessary waste as have the many initiatives to reduce marine debris. It will be interesting to see whether we look back at 2018 as a much needed turning point towards better behaviour and practices.  And will the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra be replaced by the Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair and Recycle – and Rot?"