May 21, 2021

The three R’s rule: the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling

by MaresmeCircular in Consortium

– In one year, the Maresme Waste Centre receives more than 220,000 tonnes from the grey bin. This is five times more than the amount that should actually arrive there.

– Moving from a linear to a circular economy means changing the way we produce and consume, implementing actions that extend the life cycle of products.

The current pace of life and the evolution of our consumption habits as a society have led us to generate more and more waste. Frozen products in plastic bags, trays for vegetables, glass, individual cartons, cans and a long list of materials that will become waste are part of our daily lives. At home, at work, in the street. Everywhere, all the time. To what extent are we aware of it?

The way we consume is key to understanding the amount of resources we (mis)use. Resources that we use not only when directly consuming the product, but also in the way we consume it, which can indirectly generate a large amount of waste and emissions.

In one year alone, the Maresme Waste Centre (which serves one million people) receives more than 220,000 tonnes from the grey bin. This is five times the amount that should actually arrive there. This is because only waste that cannot really be recycled, such as cigarette butts, nappies, torn clothes, toiletries, toys and ceramics should be placed in the grey bin. But is this bin really being used correctly?

With regard to the municipal collection of all waste in the Maresme region, which includes the remainder fraction, glass, paper, cardboard, packaging and organic waste, each person generates 1.55 kilos of waste per day, giving an annual average of 565 kilos (that’s just one person!).

But what’s happening with the grey bin?

The Maresme Waste Centre receives all the residual waste from the Maresme and Vallès Oriental regions. That is to say, everything that is deposited in the grey containers of these two counties. The Centre has a mechanical pre-treatment plant where all the materials that can be recycled from the residual fraction are recovered, complementing the work done at home.
Of all the waste that enters as the residual fraction, i.e. that which has been deposited as rejected, just over 10% is recovered in plastic packaging, metals, cardboard and glass, among others. Of this same total (approximately 220,000 tonnes per year), 35% is separated as organic matter to be treated using the Centre’s own biological processes. Finally, 55% is the rejected fraction that will be used for energy recovery. This means that waste that cannot be recycled is used to generate energy in the form of steam, electricity or hot water.

Although the Maresme facility carries out a great deal of material recovery work, ideally such a centre would not have to receive this amount of waste. A conscious and correct recycling on the part of the population would mean that all the remainder fraction that arrives at the Centre would not have to go through all the previous recovery tasks that are currently carried out, with all the work that this entails.

Waste as a resource

The large accumulation of waste, the increase in world population, the scarcity of natural resources, the increase in demand for raw materials and the climate crisis itself make us urgently consider the need for a change of model. To move from a linear to a circular economy. And this means changing the way we produce and consume. Sharing, renting, reusing, repairing, renewing, recycling materials; everything that extends the life cycle of products.

The famous three R’s rule gives us the basis for establishing more conscious consumption habits.

The first R, Reduce, invites us to make a more responsible use of everything we use, leading us to reduce the amount of waste we generate. Remember: the best waste is that which is not generated.

The second, Reuse, refers to extending the useful life of objects. In other words, making sure, before throwing any object away, that we cannot give it a second useful life.

The third and last R is Recycle, which means separating waste that is no longer useful, depositing it in the appropriate bin and allowing it to return to the production cycle.


How can we contribute from home? Small changes

Caring about the products we buy and consuming responsibly and consciously is key to helping reduce our impact on the planet and generating less waste. Basic things such as buying products in bulk that have not been previously processed, reusing packaging, buying large jugs instead of litre bottles, and in general using the minimum amount of disposable plastics, are the beginning of change.

At the same time, an everyday act such as being aware of the need to recycle and separate all waste that we have not been able to prevent, is essential to return these materials to the productive cycle and to depend less and less on the use of natural resources.

Recycling is also a way of contributing to the reduction of energy consumption and, therefore, to generate less CO₂, minimising the worrying greenhouse effect. A fact that also leads to a reduction in air pollution, representing a better preservation of the planet and its resources.