Everyone here at Friends of the Earth is pleased to see the roll-out of the recycling scheme across Birmingham, fuelled by Friends of the Earth campaigning, (for more information see www.birmingham.gov.uk/recycling) which, although far from perfect, is a step in the right direction.

However, I think everyone is over-focusing on recycling as the way to get green and I do think that, when it comes to waste, going green involves a lot more than just recycling. I recently attended Birmingham City Council’s Sustainability Forum which focused on recycling and I noticed that a lot of the discussion was on how to reduce the waste in the first place. What we need to think about when it comes to waste is Reduce, Reuse and THEN Recycle.

1. Reduce what food we put in the bin. A shocking 20% of the food we buy is fed to the bin, either as leftovers or because it’s no longer fresh. This waste costs an average of £424 per person per year and results in considerable emissions of methane (The Rough Guide to Ethical Living). Ways to reduce this waste include planning more carefully when shopping and cooking, using the freezer and making use of leftovers. If food really has to go, invest in a composting bin, usually offered at very good rates by your local council or water providers.

2. Always choose a Bag for Life or one of the various re-usable bags available. Eight billion plastic bags are handed out to us every year, so try to carry a re-usable bag with you when shopping.
3. Choose products which have less packaging. Buy loose fruit and vegetables and put them together in one bag. Many fruit and vegetables (eg bananas, onions) have their natural packaging anyway so don’t even need a bag!

4. Milk bottles, which on average are re-used 20 times, are a great institution. It would be good if there were more schemes like this, as it makes sense to re-use the bottle rather than having to make a whole new bottle each time.
5. Rather than use plastic bags for lunches, use plastic boxes, which can be used again and again rather than bags that are often used only once.
6. Donate it – much of what we send to the tip is in perfect working order but no longer useful to us. There are many ways to pass on these unwanted items; eg. give to your local charity shop or put a listing on the local freecycle forum.

7. Of course, make full use of the Birmingham recycling scheme and the recycling banks which, depending on the area, take bottles, paper, plastics, clothes and shoes.

8. Choose products which are made from recycled material. There are quite a few things appearing on the market, but we need to demand more as we are not completing the circle. Everyone is recycling diligently but are enough people demanding the recycled products? If there is a demand surely producers will change?

9. Remember WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) – with the new WEEE legislation, producers will be responsible for financing collection, treatment and recovery of waste electrical equipment and consumers will be able to return their waste equipment free of charge.

10. Finally, always act on REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. See if there are any ways of reducing what waste you produce, then if it can’t be reduced check if it can be reused? Finally, recycle. Just don’t ignore it as this isn’t going to go away. Landfill is running out and something needs to be done..