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Greening my office: an award for recycling is a nonsense

Sylvia Sunshine

9th June, 2010

Sylvia is riled when her distinctly un-environmentally-friendly office receives a recycling award from a dubious source...

In our office we recycle waste. Not much, but some. If I were to guesstimate I would suggest that our recycling each week fills nothing more than a measly pillowcase-sized sack of waste.

I am not really sure if this constitutes a lot, but for those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you will know that this sack does not demonstrate the lack of waste in my office. No, at work we are the formidable kings and queens of waste. Headed paper, cardboard, and reports - reams and reams of the stuff. If we have it, we’ll chuck it. And I should know; I’m the one who’s obliged to carry these Santa-sized sacks of recyclable and non-recyclable unmentionables to the basement for collection each week.

We recycle just 20 per cent of our total waste. Comparatively little and highly unsatisfactory - at home my figure is more like 75 per cent.

If the recent mooted 'bin tax' were to go ahead (which, apparently, it won't), my office would probably only just hit the floor limit of 5.5 points per month. In layman’s terms, that means that my office saves a proportionally paltry amount of its waste from going to landfill - in both relative and real terms.

Green? Us?

So if asked, I would never have defined my co-workers and me as pioneers of green. At least I wouldn’t have, before last week.

Just five days ago, as I slowly grappled for my morning coffee, I saw laid out before me, a new piece of literature on the fridge: a certificate of achievement - an award for office recycling.

As I enquired as to the meaning of this piece of card I became more intrigued. According to a certain certified body (to which I shall return in due course), between June 2009 and June 2010 my office recycled enough to reduce CO2 emissions by 200kg.

'Thank you for your significant contribution towards helping the global environment,' reads the certificate.

But this is a real moment, right? Even I - eternal sceptic - feel slightly proud. Have I really helped achieve such highs? Well, yes. And, no.

The certificate is entirely self-congratulatory. Why? Because it has been awarded by - and printed by (presumably on 100 per cent recycled card) - the organisation that comes and collects our Santa sacks full of recycled waste each week. It’s an award for using the same paper recycling company for 12 months!

It is in the interest of this organisation (which I shall not name) to encourage us to toss our pads of tree trunk into plastic bins. Organisations such as this make a living from waste. They throw up their hands in celebration when we throw paper away, as it is business for them; it’s money in their pocket - or rather, money in their recycling sack.

Recycling as a last resort

But is it really ethical and environmentally sound to be congratulated and awarded for the amount of waste one creates - recyclable or not? This is essentially the question that the 'bin tax' furore has raised - should consumers be encouraged to recycle or to reduce their waste? Or even reuse? Personally I believe that to encourage organisations to recycle is short-termist. The Government should be encouraging a reduction in waste altogether, not providing a carrot to recycle.

Recycling should be the last resort alternative, not the first port of call for any environmental waste-warrior. So well done co-workers for all your recycling. It’s an achievement. But it’s not quite the feat you might have thought. Let’s try to reduce that figure of 200kg next year please, not increase it. No matter what our recycling company says. Let’s try and reduce overall waste and increase the proportional amount of recycled waste. It makes sense.

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