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Recycling Symbols Explained

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s a tune we’re all familiar with, and a message that has been clear since the 1970’s…Or has it? Recycling can sometimes seem overwhelming, with packaging covered in seemingly endless symbols, with different meanings in different places.

As part of Autumn Clean Cymru 2020, our Living Seas Team would like to help clear things up! Below is a guide to the more commonly found recycling symbols, explaining what it is that they mean, and how to sort your waste with ease.

Symbols

The Mobius Loop symbol

The Mobius Loop – a familiar symbol: three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, facing clockwise. This symbol means that an item can be recycled! It does not mean that the product itself is made from recycled materials, however sometimes a % symbol is present alongside the Mobius Loop to indicate this.

The Plastic Resin Codes 1-7 symbols

Plastic Resin Codes – again, a familiar symbol: three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, facing clockwise, but this time with a number in the middle. This symbol is only found on plastic products, and appropriate disposal depends on the number:
• 1 – 2: Generally, easily recycled.
• 3 – 4: Can usually be recycled, although it can vary depending on locality. We would recommend checking with your local council before disposing of these products.
• 5 – 7: Cannot be recycled easily yet.

Widely Recycled symbol

Widely Recycled – a green arrow rotating clockwise. In this case the product is generally recyclable, by over 75% of local authorities in the UK. Sometimes this symbol will include additional wording/instructions, for example “rinse”. These instructions should be followed, as it helps recycling centres to protect from contamination and reduce the risk of attracting unwanted guests to recycling facilities!

Check Locally symbol

Check Locally – a black/white arrow rotating clockwise. In this case the product can only be recycled by between 20% – 75% of local authorities in the UK. This means that it is worth checking that the item is collected in your area before you place the product in the recycle bin!

The Green Dot symbol

The Green Dot – a symbol composed of two interlacing arrows (usually green) in a circle. This symbol is a little bit tricky and is not quite what it seems…the Green Dot means that the manufacturer has made a financial contribution to recycling services in Europe…it does not mean that the product is recyclable.

Recyclable Aluminium symbol

Recyclable aluminium – two arrows, rotating clockwise, with “alu” in the centre. This symbol means that the product is made of recyclable aluminium. Ensure that the product has been cleaned fully, and, in most cases, you can place it in the recycling!

Recyclable Steel symbol

Recyclable steel – A magnet attracting a steel can. This symbol indicates that the product is made of steel. All local authorities will collect steel cans and recycle them!

Glass symbol

Glass – Three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, facing clockwise, with a stick person in the centre, placing a bottle in a bin. This symbol asks you to recycle the glass product. Glass can be appropriately disposed of at a bottle bank, or through kerbside collection – if your local council offers this. Glass recycling can seem a little complicated, as not all glass types can be recycled. A lot of this relates to the colour of the glass, and subsequent melting temperature. You can learn more here.

The Tidyman symbol

Tidyman – A stick person, disposing of waste in a bin. Fairly familiar to most, the Tidyman symbol originates from Keep Britain Tidy. It simply acts as a reminder to dispose of your waste appropriately. It does not necessarily mean that the product is recyclable.

Compostable symbol

Compostable – a fancy number six, with sprouting leaves. Products, including plastics, bearing this symbol are compostable. This means they should not be put in your normal recycling. Instead, place them in your food or garden waste bin.

FSC symbol © FSC

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – A tick which morphs into a deciduous tree. The FSC logo can be found on wood-based products from well managed forests – independently certified in line with the FSC’s rules. Wood and timber are generally not accepted in your household recycling, however, can be taken to local waste recycling facilities.

In short:

Ven diagram showing the various recycling symbols under the categories “Recycle me!” and “Do NOT recycle me!” © Living Seas Wales

Check locally

What does checking locally – the middle area on our ven diagram – mean? You can use the Wales Recycles website to find out more about which products can be appropriately disposed of by your local council. Simply select “recycling at home” and enter your postcode to learn more!

You should always double checking how waste disposal is managed in your local area, particularly if you have recently moved, as disposal and recycling services will vary between local councils.

Why should we recycle?

Hopefully, if you’ve made it to this point in the article, you’re already recycling at least some products from around your home! If not, you may be thinking “why should I”? It can seem like a lot of work to have to, in some cases, clean and then sort your waste products appropriately. So why bother?

Gulls feeding at Veolia Landfill Site, Essex © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

    • Recycling makes a difference: Currently, in the UK, recycling is estimated to save between 10 – 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually – that’s the same as taking 3.5 million cars off the road!
    • Recycling saves natural resources: Once recycling has been collected, it will be sorted, bailed, and then transported to reprocesses to be made into brand new products! The fibres in paper, for example, could go on to be used in egg cartons, loft insulation, or even new road surfaces! And, because the product is being reused, it also stops trees and forests being chopped down to create the same product!
    • Recycling protects wildlife: By saving natural resources, fewer forests are cut down, and less wildlife is displaced. Recycling, and disposing of waste appropriately, also stops waste from entering and polluting our environment.
    • Recycling saves energy: If we take aluminium as an example, recycling can save up to 95% of the energy needed to produce the same product from the raw materials. It’s estimated that the energy saved by recycling, instead of producing, just one aluminium can, can power a TV for 3 hours!
    • Herring Gull and Plastic pollution © Jason Burk / CBMWC

      Recycling fights climate change: Who knew your yoghurt pot could be so powerful?! Because recycling uses less energy, it also produced lower carbon emissions than processing raw materials.

    • Recycling is good for the economy: In 2017, a London council stated that “it is six times cheaper to dispose of recycled waste than general waste”. Not only does recycling save money, it also creates jobs in a green economy!
    • It does get easier: Cleaning and sorting your waste will eventually become as second nature as washing your hands after you’ve used the bathroom! Particularly if you generally buy the same products, with the same packaging, week on week, you’ll soon be recycling like a pro!

Convinced? We certainly are.

Conscious consumerism

There are, of course, further steps. Recycling is, after all, the third R in the legendary jingle!

  • Reuse: by reusing products, such as glass jars or plastic takeaway tubs, you can get the most out of a product before recycling it. Re-using items in this way can also help you to reduce the amount of the product you would purchase in the first place – imagine how many plastic bottles you could save by re-using one for a week, rather than buying a fresh one daily! (We’ve done the maths: you’d purchase 52 bottles, rather than 364 – that’s 312 fewer bottles annually, and, assuming you shop at Tesco and buy a single 500ml bottle, a saving of £118.56 a year!
  • Reduce: as you can see above, reusing products can naturally help you to reduce the quantity that you buy. But by consciously shifting your product choices you can make even more of a difference – not just to the environment, but also to your bank account. Let’s use the example above: before, you used 364 plastic bottles a year, costing you £138.32 annually; you’ve started reusing your plastic bottles and now use 52 – one a week – costing you £19.76 per year; say you decide to reduce your product consumption further, and purchase a reusable metal bottle, you can pick up a 570ml one from the same retailer for £12; stainless steel bottles are estimated to last an average of 12 years before they need replacing – now you’re reducing the amount of product you purchase, and need ultimately to recycle, you’re paying an average of only £1.00 a year for a water bottle! Before, £1.00 would be enough to last 2.63 days. Before, 12 years-worth of bottles would cost you £1,659.84…it now costs you £12.

Sunset at Penbryn, Ceredigion © Beth Thompson / CBMWC

If the environmental impact that reducing, reusing, and recycling, can and does have isn’t enough to convince you, perhaps the economic benefits will.

🎶 In short: reduce, reuse, and recycle! 🎶

Seagrass: Meadows of the Sea

Seagrass

Seagrass meadows (or beds) are a vital part of our marine environment and provide a wealth of ecosystem services, from capturing carbon to providing vital species habitat. But we’ve lost over 90% of our seagrass meadows in the UK since 1920 and the fragmented bits that are left of these unique underwater environments is threatened.

Seagrass Bed . Photo credit: Paul Naylor

What is a seagrass meadow?

Seagrass is the only flowering plant that lives and pollinates in the seawater. It inhabits shallow waters (typically up to about 4 metres in depth) near to the coast and relies on high levels of sunlight in order to photosynthesise. Plants grow in large groups, similar in appearance to terrestrial meadows. In Wales, we have 4 species of seagrass;  two zostera species which are considered ‘true’ seagrass, otherwise known as eelgrass, and two species of tasselweeds, which grow in brackish waters.

Lungs of the sea

Although seagrass meadows take up just 0.1% of the seafloor, they are responsible for storing 11% of the annual ocean carbon storage globally, at a rate 35 times faster than that within tropical rain forests. One square metre can produce 10 litres of oxygen daily, hence the nickname “lungs of the sea”.

Short snouted seahorse. Photo credit:Paul Naylor.

Aside from this, seagrass provides a host of other ecosystem services. Through trapping sediments within their roots, they help to stabilise the seafloor, improve water clarity and reduce erosion, whilst also acting as a buffer against stormy seas. Furthermore, seagrass improves water quality through absorbing excess nutrients within run-off; yet in nutrient poor areas, seagrass can act as a pump, taking up nutrients from the soil and releasing into the sea. Seagrass beds are host to a wealth of wildlife too, providing food, protection for predation, allowing for rich marine biodiversity. Thousands of species depend on seagrass meadows. Small fish, cuttlefish, shellfish and rays use seagrass meadows as nurseries, whilst other species including pipefish, and the UK’s two species of seahorses (long snouted/ spiny and short snouted) may call it home.

Threats to seagrass beds

Spotted gobies amongst Eelgrass. Photo credit: Paul Naylor

A colourful nudibranch (Facelina auriculata) searching for its food of small hydroids by climbing on a blade of seagrass (eelgrass: Zostera marina) meadow. Photo Credit: Alexander Mustard/ 2020 VISION

Seagrass is vulnerable to physical disturbance, so stormy weather can cause damage, but this is part of the natural life-cycle which ensures the habitat stays healthy and productive.

Pollution and nutrient rich run-off from fertilisers boost seaweeds and algal blooms, blocking sunlight and therefore disrupting photosynthesis within seagrass plants. Boats leave scars and damage plants, whilst also increasing erosion and fragmenting the habitat. Disease is another significant threat. During the 1930’s a wasting disease caused catastrophic loss of seagrass habitat throughout the UK’s coastal waters and beyond. It was so severe that it led to the extinction of a sea snail that specialised in living on an Eelgrass. The disease caused brown spots to develop on the leaves, reducing ability to photosynthesise. Seagrass meadows that are healthy are resistant to disease, yet direct and indirect human pressure means that seagrass meadows have been pushed beyond their coping mechanisms. This has been attributed to the huge loss we’ve seen over the last century.

Seagrass recovery

The world is beginning to wake up to the ecosystem services seagrass beds provide and they are often likened to canary birds, indicating the state of overall health of the marine environment. Various projects around the UK are successfully replanting and restoring seagrass meadows. In North Wales, the seagrass beds of Porthdinllaen are being closely monitored, whilst in South Wales at Dale Bay, a restoration project has enabled the planting of 2 acres of new seagrass meadow.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, it was reported that the seagrass beds at Studland Bay, Dorset, had started to repair itself due to a reduction in the number of boats and people in the area, allowing for the spiny seahorse to take advantage. There had been no sightings within the last 2 years of the creature, but on a recent dive, 16 were recorded; the largest daily recording since 2008.

A female spiny seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) shelters is a meadow of common eelgrass (Zostera marina). Photo credit: Alexander Mustart/ 2020VISION

So there is hope for seagrass yet, with some seagrass species demonstrating that recovery can be rapid, but in order to have long-term results, there has to be a concerted effort to reduce the human pressures on the habitat.

For more information, take a look at Project Seagrass.

 

The Problem of Period Plastic

Unfortunately, there is such a taboo surrounding periods that we don’t talk openly and honestly about the issues surrounding periods and period plastic.

In the UK a staggering 200,000 tonnes of sanitary products end up in landfill EVERY YEAR. Most conventional products contain plastic, 90% of a sanitary pad and 6% of a tampon is plastic and let’s not forget the packaging and plastic tampon applicators too. These products can take over 500 years to break down.

Did you know – around 2 billion menstrual items are flushed down Britain’s toilets every year? This causes sewer blockages and many of these products end up on our beaches and in our seas! Pads, tampons and applicators are the 5th most common item found on European beaches

Thinking about our health and the environment

As well as being bad for the environment, sanitary products often contain a cocktail of chemicals some of which are linked to breast cancer and infertility. A study of tampons in the US found a range of chemicals including methylene chloride which is commonly found in paint stripper! Manufacturers don’t have to list the ingredients on their products which means many product users aren’t aware of the harmful chemicals they are exposing themselves too.

The cheapest products are often the ones with the most potential to damage our health and the environment.

So what are the eco-friendly alternatives?

  • Menstrual Cups – these are soft, flexible cups made from of medical grade silicone or rubber. They are worn internally like tampons and should last 5-10 years.
  • Period pants – are underwear that you can wash and reuse again for 2-3 years.
  • Reusable pads – are used in the same way as the disposable option however, they can be washed and re-used again for years.
  • Organic pads and tampons – are single use products that are made from cotton rather than plastic. Look for products that are 100% organic cotton and avoid tampons made from rayon, a cotton and rayon mix and anything that is fragranced. Do you like to use a tampon with an applicator? There are a range of re-usable applicators available.

Changing to new products might seem scary but many brands have testimonials on their websites to help you chose the right product for you. You could always change to organic pads or tampons if you aren’t ready for re-usable products just yet!   

REMEMBER – whichever product you decide to use remember to change or wash it regularly to reduce the chances of toxic shock syndrome

If you would like more information on periods, period plastic, tackling period poverty and eco-friendly options visit the Women’s Environmental Network website –  https://www.wen.org.uk/our-work/environmenstrual/

What is an Oil Spill?

Over the past month we’ve watched as the MV Wakashio has leaked approximately 1,000 tonnes of oil into the pristine waters, and surrounding reefs, of Mauritius. The ship, which hit a coral reef on the 25th of July 2020, and subsequent oil spill, has threatened corals, fish, and other marine life, in what some scientists suggest could be the worst ecological disaster that Mauritius has ever seen.

Early estimates from the US analytics company, Ursa Space Systems, as of the 11th of August 2020, found that the spill was covering an area of 27 square kilometres. Given that the ship ran aground in a sanctuary for rare wildlife, and close to a wetlands designated as a site of international importance, this is particularly concerning.

The MV Wakashio oil spill is by no means the first, or worst, of its kind, and it is, unfortunately, unlikely to be the last. Oil spills have reached every ocean globally, including waters closer to home. But more on that in a moment. First, let’s establish some basics.

What are oil spills?

According to Dictionary.com, an oil spill is the “accidental release of oil into a body of water, as from a tanker, offshore rig, or underwater pipeline, often presenting a hazard to marine life and the environment”. Oil spills are, as noted above, generally accidental, however there have been cases historically, as during the Gulf War, where spills were instead intentional. This would, however, generally be considered a rarity.

Thames shipping near Canvey Island and the Coryton Oil Refinery. Essex. © Terry Whittaker / 2020VISION

What causes oil spills?

Accidental oil spills into bodies of water can be caused by human error, equipment breaking or failing, or by natural disasters. Investigations are generally carried out to determine the cause of a spill.

What happens during/directly after an oil spill?

As oil enters the water it will generally float – very heavy oil will occasionally sink in freshwater systems – and begin to spread, forming a thin layer on the surface. We call this an oil slick. We can actively see slicks or sheens on the water, and you are actually likely to have seen smaller versions on road surfaces – they resemble a rainbow.

As this oil spreads, it can be very harmful to wildlife and communities in its wake.

Why are they a problem for wildlife?

Oil spills can have devastating consequences on marine and coastal wildlife. Particularly those that spend time on the surface of the ocean, or on the shoreline.

Atlantic grey seal pup © Manon Chaurtard / CBMWC

Fur-bearing mammals and birds

For fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters and seal pups, oil can destroy the insulating ability of their fur. Similarly, when coated in oil, birds’ feathers will lose their ability to repel water. In both cases, the affected individuals are completely exposed to the environment, and the ocean around them; and are therefore unable to protect themselves from the elements. Many may suffer from hypothermia, and subsequently die.

Bottlenose dolphin surfacing © Dr Sarah Perry / CBMWC

Dolphins, whales and turtles

Species without fur or feathers, including charismatic animals such as dolphins, whales, and turtles, are also affected. Dolphins and whales may inhale oil as they surface, which can subsequently affect their lungs, immune system, and reproduction. Whilst sea turtles, and a number of other animals, may ingest oil, either by mistaking it for food or attempting to clean themselves. Oil is, perhaps unsurprisingly, poisonous if ingested.

Since the MV Wakashio ran aground last month, at least 17 dolphins have been found dead on the coast of Mauritius.  Postmortem investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of death.

Shanny © Dr Sarah Perry / CBMWC

Fish

Even organisms which do not directly encounter the slick at the surface, are affected. Adult fish can experience changes in growth rate, heart rate, and reproductive rates, as well as enlargement of the liver. For fish eggs and larvae, the effects can be even more severe, with spills often proving lethal.

Why are they a problem for coastal communities?

For coastal communities, a reduction in fish stock in this way, is not only a concern ecologically, but also in terms of food supply and the local economy.

Fishermen, ecotourism businesses, and environmental charities, to name a few, can all be negatively affected by the aftereffects of oil spills. Potentially leaving the environment, and economy – depending on the severity of the spill – in a state of disrepair for years to come.

Oil spills in Welsh waters

Historic spills in Welsh waters

Wales has seen its share of oil spills over the years. With perhaps the most infamous being the Sea Empress oil spill in 1996, and the Christos Bitas oil disaster in 1978. Both of these spills took place off the Pembrokeshire coastline and were caused by the ships running aground on rocks, spilling 73,000 tonnes and 5,000 tonnes of oil respectively.

Data from the time showed that, as a result of the 1978 spill, 1,520 sea birds were covered in oil, of which 68%, a huge 1,035 died, alongside 3 Atlantic grey seals who were residing around Skomer Island.

Male Common Scoter © Derek Moore

The Sea Empress spill, which released over fourteen times the amount of oil compared to the Christos Bitas disaster, was equally catastrophic for marine life, with around 1/3 of the local scoter population believed to have been killed in the spill. However, a report from two years later, remarked of how the area was recovering well – partly due to luck (timing, wind direction, oil type), and largely due to the monumental clean-up effort that followed.

And so, oil spills are not necessarily just a catastrophic event that we see in the news, happening in far off places. They will, have, and indeed may happen again, in waters closer to home.

Laura Evans, our Living Seas Wales Project Officer, at one of our ‘Memory Pod’ events © CBMWC

The Sea and Me

We are interested to hear from anyone who recalls either of the aforementioned oil spills, the Sea Empress (1996) and Christos Bitas (1978), as part of our marine memories project: The Sea and Me. We are looking to record your stories of the marine environment, and marine wildlife, with the hope of being able to use these conversations, to push back historical conservation baselines.

Now what does that mean? It means we will be able to gain a greater understanding of what the marine environment use to look like, what it looks like today, and how it might look going in to the future. There are real applications from this project to shape how we can best protect and conserve our oceans going forward. 

If you are able to contribute, please feel free to submit your memories via our website, or drop an email to our Living Seas Engagement Officer, Beth, at livingseas@welshwildlife.org.

Thank you.

Main Image: “Clean Up After a Big Oil Spill” by NOAA’s National Ocean Service, which is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It’s Pupping Time

The seal pupping season is almost here and soon females and their fluffy white pups will be spotted along the Welsh coast.

Living Seas Seal by Sarah Perry

Atlantic Grey Seal © Dr Sarah Perry

Atlantic grey seals are marine mammals that are closely related to bears! They are one of the rarest species of seals and around 40% of the world’s population is found in the UK.

Grey seals have a very distinctive head and their scientific name (Halichoerus grypus) means “sea-pig with a hooked nose”. Males are dark with light patches and have an arched roman nose. Females are light with dark patches and they have a smaller, straighter nose. Female grey seals can live up to 35 years old however, males only live to around 25 years old.

Unlike whales and dolphins, seals spend their lives moving between the land and the sea. They haul out of the water at sites called ‘rookeries’ where they rest, breed and moult. They return to the sea to feed and will eat a variety of fish including sand eels and cod as well as crustaceans, squid and octopus. They can dive to depths of 30m-70m in search of food. 

Seal Pup © Paul Board

Female grey seals reach maturity around 5-6 years old and will give birth to a single pup between late August to October. The pups are typically born on sheltered beaches or in sea caves, away from human activity. Pups are born with white coats, called langu, and are nursed by their mothers for about 17 to 18 days. In this time the pup gains 2kg of weight a day due to the high fat content (60%) of its mother’s milk.

Females must still forage for food whilst nursing and will leave their pup alone to do so. If you find a seal pup on the beach then keep your distance, the mother is most likely in the water nearby. Pups are poor swimmers so should never be chased into the sea. If the seal pup is disturbed by humans or dogs the mother may prematurely abandon it.

If you are worried about an injured or possibly sick seal pup then please contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. DO NOT attempt to intervene yourself.

If you are worried about an injured or possibly sick seal pup then please contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. DO NOT attempt to intervene yourself.

Snorkelling

Snorkelling - Anna Williams (NWWT)

This time of the year we would be collecting bookings for our popular Snŵdling events with award-winning artist, Kim Atkinson. Snŵdling is sketching, whilst snorkelling. The process helps you to pay attention and take note of the colours, light, patterns, creatures; you get that “in the moment” experience.

 

The most important consideration when choosing where you want to snorkel is safety

This is the perfect time to go snorkelling and so long as you take care of yourselves and the wildlife you’re seeing, it’s one of those experiences that “leaves no trace”. The water at this time of year has had a few months of warming up, the air temperature is generally pleasant and there are plenty of things to be seen. For me, floating weightlessly watching sea creatures do their thing is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Snorkelling takes you on a journey to the underwater world without the need for expensive equipment and, with a basic understanding of your location and the ability to swim, it is an activity that can be safely enjoyed by the whole family.

Kim Atkinson snorkelling - North Wales Wildlife Trust

Kim Atkinson snorkelling – North Wales Wildlife Trust

There is all sorts of snorkel equipment that you can buy, but in reality all you truly need is a mask and snorkel until you decide that you want to take snorkelling to the next level. At that point you might buy some fins to help you swim and a wetsuit to prolong your time in the water. You can then move on to some of the more expensive and specialised equipment.

 

The most important consideration when choosing where you want to snorkel is safety. Think about the amount of boats in the area, the amount of litter and where you’ll be getting in and out of the water.  Think about how you are feeling in the water, don’t let yourself get too cold and watch out for sunburn. Make sure you avoid areas with tidal races, strong currents and undertow. If it isn’t safe to swim, it isn’t safe to snorkel and popular swimming beaches are just as good as anywhere to start.

Jellyfish - Rohan Holt

Jellyfish – Rohan Holt

So, what are you looking for? The answer to that is simple, anything and everything, and the things you’ll see will depend on where you are and the visibility in the water. At this time of year, look for jellyfish and sea gooseberries in the water (do not to touch!). Look carefully in the sand (many creatures are well camouflaged) for flatfish, sandeels and hermit crabs. Seaweeds and kelp forests are pretty in themselves, but look for creatures hiding within them. Spider crabs will have arrived earlier on in the summer to breed;  these big long- legged crabs are an incredible sight. Look for creatures such as spiral worms and the blue rayed limpets feeding on the fronds of the kelp. Lesser and greater spotted catsharks can be seen and watch out for other species of fish whizzing past. Head to barnacle covered rocks, look carefully and you may see their legs pulsing as they feed. It’s a great time to see what happens to rockpools when the tide is in!

 

Safety first – if you have any doubts ask your local dive club or shop for advice for the safety of particular sites and never snorkel on your own!

 

Spider crab - Rohan Holt

Spider crab – Rohan Holt