Littering is a habit Mauritians are yet to break free from. It is even more deplorable when much of the litter strewing our environment is actually recyclable. While kerbside collection of recyclable household waste is non-existent in Mauritius, local recycling initiatives do nonetheless exist. As we marked World Environment Day on Wednesday, Weekly looks into how to start recycling at home.
Recycling in Mauritius is a nascent phenomenon. A meager 6.25 per cent of all the waste produced in the country was recycled in 2016, a figure very far from the 44.3 per cent of household waste recycled in the UK in 2015.
Recycling is relevant - not to say vital - to a country like Mauritius which has almost no natural resources. Everything we use in our daily life is made from raw materials like timber for paper and petroleum for glass and plastic. Recycling allows us to bypass primary sources of raw materials. This not only saves money, but is also more environmentally sustainable. For instance, four tonnes of recycled paper save 19 trees and 400 m3 of water. Recycling is also the solution to the gargantuan volumes of waste sent to landfills each year. In 2018, Mare-Chicose received 543,196 tonnes of waste, a 12.7 per cent increase of the 482,196 tonnes landfilled there in 2017. At this rate, the authorities predict the biggest landfill of the island will reach saturation point by next year. Recycling part of the waste sent to landfills would help delay this deadline.
What can be recycled?
Recycling at home follows some guidelines essential in preventing contamination. Contamination happens when non-recyclables or the wrong recyclables end up in the recycling stream and affect the quality of the end product. We first distinguish between the different types of recyclable waste. Plastic, metal cans, paper, glass, cartons and electronics are the main household recyclables.
Plastic waste is the trickiest of all recyclables since different types of plastic have different recycling properties. To keep it simple, all plastic bottles are recyclable: polypet bottles like water, milk and fizzy drink bottles, household cleaning and chemicals bottles and shampoo and toiletry bottles. Add to the list plastic tubs and boxes. Thin plastics like bags, films and wraps, and expanded polystyrene like trays and "takeaway" boxes are recyclable but are not collected by all recyclers in Mauritius. Yoghurt and cream cups and plastic toys are unfortunately not recyclable as they are made of distinct plastics.
Metal, on the other hand, is less problematic; it can be recycled indefinitely. Aluminium tins and drink cans are the most common metal of household waste and are the only ones currently collected in Mauritius. In Europe, recycled cans can be back on the shelves in as little as six weeks. While steel tin cans are recyclable abroad, they are not yet in Mauritius. Cutlery cannot presently be recycled.
Paper and cardboard are also a widely recycled waste. In Europe, recycled paper can be back on the market in only seven days. Removing plastic windows and metallic staples from envelopes and paper helps prevent contaminating the recycling stream. Cardboard includes egg-trays, boxes, and packaging like cereal, cigarette, pills and toothpaste boxes. Tissue paper, kitchen towels and greasy wrapping paper and cardboard, being unrecyclable, have to be sent to landfills.
Only glass bottles and jars are recycled in Mauritius. Other types of glass such as drinking glasses, light bulbs, window glass and Pyrex are made of different materials and will leave faults in the finished product. Local NGOs recycle glass bottles into aggregates used as water filters, adherence material in road surfacing, or simply as decoration.
Juice, soup and milk cartons are recycled abroad. In Mauritius, however, they are still considered as non-recyclable. The technology and expertise required to handle their recycling are yet to reach our shores. Cartons contain distinct linings of paper, plastic and aluminium which render their recycling cumbersome.
The rule of thumb is to bin any waste whose recyclability cannot be established. Hesitantly assigning waste recyclable properties actually risks contaminating the whole recycling stream.
Where to drop off your recyclables?
While island-wide kerbside collection of recyclable waste by local authorities is yet to be implemented in Mauritius, several drop-off points, supervised by NGOs, exist. Mission Verte, for instance, has set up over 20 public and 24 private drop-off points for the collection of cardboard, paper, plastic bottles and aluminium cans. Check their website for the location of their recycling bins.
GREEN Ltd has recycling bins at Grand Baie La Croisette which accept anything from plastic bottles to cardboard, through polystyrene, batteries and cells, compact fluorescent light (CFL) lamps and plastic wrapping. Mobile phones, tablets, chargers, accessories, batteries and cells can also be dropped at all Emtel outlets. A few Lions and Rotary Clubs have set up plastic bottle recycling bins at various public beaches across the island too.
Glass bottles can be recycled at Plankton in Bel-Ombre or at Mission Verte's warehouse in Riche-Terre. Conversely, e-waste (printers, IT equipment, TV sets, scanners, fax machines, large household appliances, etc) are dealt with by B.E.M. Recycling at Saint-Martin, Recycling Valorisation Environnement in Beau-Bassin, and GREEN Ltd, Plaine-Lauzun.
Recycling initiatives exist in Mauritius, albeit all too often, it is up to the individual's own initiative to take their waste to the different collection points. Kerb-side collection seems utopic. It would, however, be a significant move towards making Mauritius a greener and more sustainable island. Smaller preliminary steps by both the public and private sectors could nonetheless consist in installing recycling bins in public areas, public buildings and offices.