Brewing up trouble... our love of tea has us in stew
Tea is probably one of the things that keeps Belfast running – but it looks like our bad tea drinking habits are wreaking havoc on the environment.
Our love of the Belfast brew is damaging the environment – and hitting our pockets – with an estimated 950 tonnes of unnecessary waste generated each year by sending thousands of used teabags to landfill.
That's costing the city some £76,000 a year, yet the problem is easily solved.
If we just recycled our teabags by throwing them in with the rest of the food waste, ratepayers would be saving £29,000 a year.
The shocking statistic emerged from Belfast City Council's Fresher, Cleaner, Greener campaign which focuses on food waste.
Councillor Pat McCarthy, chairman of the council's health and environmental services committee, said: "I was amazed when I heard how much waste was caused by throwing out teabags alone.
"When you consider how many cups of tea you have in a day, they seriously add up and there's no excuse for sending them to landfill because you can dispose of them in brown bins or in food caddies.
"It costs us £76,000 to dispose of teabags via landfill and imagine what we could do with that money instead. Households need to make a special effort to recycle as much at home as possible and that includes food waste.
"If we could save £29,000 each year just by recycling our teabags, think how much we could save if we composted all our food waste at home.
"We really need everyone on board and doing as much as they possibly can to boost the city's recycling rate."
The council has been highlighting the issue of food waste through public advertising and awareness campaigns like Waste Week and European Week for Waste Reduction.
Around 60,000 homes across the city have brown bins, allowing them to easily recycle food waste, and a further 7,000 homes have kitchen caddies as part of the council's food waste collection scheme.
Councillor McCarthy added: "Last year, waste collection in Belfast cost ratepayers around £15m.
"We currently recycle around 32% of all waste – but around 70% of waste can be recycled, so we still have a long way to go.
"Under EU directives, we must get our recycling rate to at least 50% by 2015 or else face massive fines, which ultimately will impact on the ratepayer."
In 2011 around 80,000 tonnes of waste was sent to landfill while 38,000 tonnes was recycled.
"It costs council £800 to process every lorry filled with black bin waste, compared to just £80 for a truck-load of recyclable waste. Compostable waste collected in brown bins is also significantly cheaper to process, costing £470 per lorry load.
"These are sobering statistics and there's only so much the council can do, the rest is up to ratepayers themselves.
"We provide the bins and boxes, we provide the collections; now we're asking households to really make that extra push and engage with us," councillor McCarthy added.
1 Irish social reformers in the 19th century regarded tea drinking as being as destructive to morals as drinking whiskey.
2 Irish people now drink more tea per capita than any other nation in the world
3 Tea was first introduced to Ireland in the early 1800s when it was only drunk by the very wealthy.
4 Narnia author CS Lewis reckoned: "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."
5 Tea sparked a security alert in 2010. A man left a suspicious package at Parliament Buildings containing iced tea and two sticks.