What is rubbish

What is rubbish and how does it affect our environment?

Rubbish is a waste material that is unwanted or unusable. 

Rubbish is anything we no longer want or need - from unwanted items, such as broken toys, electrical items that no longer work, empty packaging or clothing that you’ve outgrown or no longer wear. The list goes on.

Sometimes you will hear the word ‘waste’ when people are talking about rubbish, but the two are the same. Humans are creating more and more rubbish and it is having a devastating effect on our environment. If rubbish isn’t reduced, reused, or recycled, it is taken to landfills where it contributes to air pollution, water and soil contamination and ultimately climate change. Landfill should be considered as a last resort, and finding ways to reduce our waste and recycling more should be important to everyone! 

Rubbish isn’t just solid waste, like materials such as paper, metal, plastic, glass or food, rubbish can be liquids or gases too. Liquid waste includes chemicals found in items such as cleaning fluids or paints, and can also be produced by industrial activity, such food processing and paper production. Fumes and gases from landfill sites come from rotting foods and chemicals such as ammonia, which transform from liquids and solids into fumes that are released into the atmosphere. These fumes can have a devastating impact on human health and the environment. Methane and carbon dioxide are the two biggest gases created by landfilled items, both of which contribute to climate change. We therefore encourage people to think twice before placing items in their general waste bins.

There are several types of rubbish: 

  • Domestic - rubbish created by households. including food, electrical and battery waste
  • Industrial and commercial - rubbish from factories, offices, shops and schools
  • Hazardous - rubbish which needs to be disposed of in a careful way to prevent pollution. For example, chemicals used to make paint
  • Agricultural - oil, silage, plastics, pesticides and redundant machinery  
  • Medical - healthcare waste that maybe contaminated by blood or body fluids or other potentially infectious materials. Such as needles, PPE, expired medicines etc.

Can rubbish breakdown and disappear?  

Biodegradable rubbish, such as food, paper and garden waste can breakdown naturally. Removing this from our household bins reduces the quantity of waste for disposal and can either be composted at home or on an industrial scale to then produce electricity.  

Non-biodegradable rubbish does not break down naturally in the environment e.g. drinks cans and plastic bags, batteries ) etc. They can take hundreds of years to break down and can contaminate soil and water resources, which will damage ecosystems and kill wildlife.

To help combat this the Government has put in laws and regulations to make sure rubbish is correctly disposed of in a responsible way. However, we all need to play out part and be responsible by recycling correctly, not leaving litter and being less wasteful!