What we learned at RWM 2019

What happens to astronauts’ clothes, and where does the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ come from? James Richards shares five things he learned at this year’s RWM conference and exhibition – plus a selection of headline news from the show

1. Aluminium continum 

Around 75 per cent of all the aluminium produced is still in use somewhere in the world today. This is because the metal can be recycled back into itself over and over again in a closed loop. Aluminium recycling was taking place in the UK as far back as the 1940s when it was an important part of the war effort on the Home Front.

Parts of the iconic Spitfire aircraft were made of aluminium, and the material is still widely used in aviation because it is lightweight compared with similar materials such as steel. Source: Novelis

2. Combating depression

HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers can feel lonely and isolated as a result of spending extended periods alone away from home, and could be particularly susceptible to depression. The 5asideCHESS Battling Suicide Bus Tour attended RWM to raise awareness within the sector and encourage people to check on their colleagues’ wellbeing.

Studies conducted by the mental health charity Mind have found that 30% of illnesses in the transport and logistics industry are mental health-related. These figures are self-reported, so the true numbers are thought to be higher.

To urge people to recycle batteries, WasteCare brought a life-sized sculpture of an elephant to RWM, made from waste batteries

3. Space waste

Water has been discovered in the north and south poles of the moon. This means that future human missions to Earth’s satellite could use this precious resource instead of taking it up on a rocket. Water is a scarce, essential element of space travel. Aboard the International Space Station there is no washing machine, so astronauts rarely wash their clothes despite having to do two hours of exercise every day to retain muscle density.

After repeated use, the clothing becomes waste that has to be removed by shuttle.

4. Mad as a hatter

Mercury is a poisonous element that can leak out of certain types of light bulb if they are not properly recycled. In humans, it can cause erethism, a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system, leading to symptoms such as low self-confidence, apathy and other social dysfunctions.

In the years before this was discovered, the millinery industry used large quantities of mercury in the finishing and shaping process of hats. This is thought to be the origin of the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’. Source: Recolight

5. Batteries not included

More than 20,000 tonnes of portable batteries end up in landfill sites every year, according to recycling company WasteCare. This is likely to be around 800 million batteries, equivalent to the weight of more than 4,400 African elephants. To raise awareness of this pressing issue, WasteCare partnered with Duracell to stage a battery hunt, recruiting 1.3 million schoolchildren from 5,500 schools across the UK.

The hunt was responsible for recycling an additional 170 tonnes of used batteries.

To urge people to recycle batteries, WasteCare brought a life-sized sculpture of an elephant to RWM, made from waste batteries. The elephant was chosen as a symbol to support World Elephant Day, which takes place each year on 12 August. Source: WasteCare

This article first appeared in the September/October issue of Circular.

RWM 2019 | The headlines

Waste’ label putting off women, says panel

The waste and resources industry should change the way it advertises jobs to attract more women, according to the RWM 2019 equality panel.

Jacqueline O’Donovan, O’Donovan Waste Disposal MD, said adverts generally appeared to be written to appeal to men, while Sheila Chauhan, of Veolia, suggested the industry could minimise the emphasis on ‘waste’ as a concept and title to appeal to a more diverse group of people.

Chair Beverley Simonson, of the London Waste and Recycling Board, identified the need to bridge the gap between the waste sector and the new environmental awareness sweeping the country, because ‘that’s where all the excitement is’ at present.

‘Strong support’ for EPR principles

There is ‘strong support’ for the main principles and outcomes of the proposed packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, according to Defra.

Linda Crichton, who is working with Defra, told RWM the department received 713 responses to the February consultation. She said feedback had been ‘positive’, but respondents stressed the importance of any scheme being ‘understandable and fair to consumers and businesses’.

Policy interventions should also be joined up and protected against unintended consequences, they said. The proposed definition of ‘full net cost recovery’ was seen by some (38 per cent) to go ‘beyond the polluter pays principle’.

Blockchain could secure DRS

Blockchain technology could reduce fraud and cut the cost of deposit return schemes, according to CryptoCycle CEO Duncan Midwood, speaking at RWM 2019.

He proposed a system whereby consumers could ‘return’ bottles and containers at home using a scanner-enabled app on their smartphones. Over time, this could promote ‘deep behavioural change’.

Get vocal about festival waste

Celebrity backing of the clean-up operation could be instrumental in improving recycling rates at Glastonbury Festival, Critical Waste’s Andy Willcott has said .

Speaking at RWM 2019, Willcott said recycling at the festival was ‘a wacky idea’ only 16 years ago but, now, the recycling effort – which started in 2000 – currently achieves around a 50 per cent rate.

Willcott told Circular that performers could have more of a role. ‘We’ve had some shout-outs on stage, but they could follow it up. Glastonbury’s cultural impact is huge, so that’s exactly the type of thing we want to be doing.’

Although visitors were Critical Waste’s ‘greatest assets’ in helping to keep the site clean, on Monday morning their attitude seems to change completely. ‘They just want to get out of there,’ he said.

Nasa’s waste innovations

Advanced waste management processes will be a crucial aspect of the Artemis programme that could see human beings return to the surface of the moon by 2024, a Nasa researcher has said.

Dr Anne Maier told an RWM audience of the profound challenges and phenomenal innovation involved in such an project. For example, a heat melt compactor is being tested to recover residual water from astronauts’ rubbish, such as wet wipes and juice boxes, through evaporative heat transfer. The resultant compacted brick can be used as a radiation shield.

A ‘trash to gas’ system developed by Nasa can also provide some of the crucial elements used in keeping space vehicles running, for example, lunar rovers, which would use liquid oxygen or methane. ‘We’ve spent so much money and energy getting up there, the last thing we want is landfills on the moon,’ said Maier.

LARAC: guarded support for core material collection

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) supports Defra’s plans for core material collection at kerbside ‘if the evidence supports the benefits’.

This was confirmed by Larac vice-chair Dan Roberts, who addressed an audience at RWM 2019. Roberts put forward the perspective of local authorities on the recent government consultation on consistency in household and business recycling collections in England.

He said that core collections could raise health and safety issues, and questioned the existence of sufficient end markets for the materials. Such a scheme would also have to mesh with ERP and DRS to be effective.

Larac ‘broadly agreed’ with Defra’s mandatory separate food waste collection for all households from 2023, but did not agree with the proposal to provide a free garden waste collection for everyone with a garden.

RWM, in partnership with CIWM, the UK’s largest recycling and waste management exhibition, will return 16-17 September 2020, so be sure to save the date. Visit rwmexhibition.com to reserve your tickets and to receive 2020 show announcements. 

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