Besides reducing the amount we consume, recycling is the next best way to reduce our impact on the environment. It’s something that most of us do on a daily basis now, but often it can be a little confusing about what exactly can and cannot be recycled, mainly because of the inconsistent labels on products and the hundreds of types of plastic some of which have to be thrown, or kerb side recycled, and others can only be recycled at a local recycling center or supermarket.
One myth surrounding recycling is that it doesn’t really benefit the environment. Now that is a little understanding because most people aren't acutely aware of what happens to it after it is collected every week. Some may have heard that most plastic is sent abroad so what is the point in recycling? However there are multiple organisations that have proved the benefit of recycling, and are highlighted below. By recycling a single glass bottle, you are effectively saving enough energy to power a 100-watt bulb for four hours.
So what are the benefits of making the effort to recycle?
Well first of all, it massively reduces the amount of waste sent to a landfill site or incinerators. With over 500 landfill sites across the UK, and 90 incinerators with 50 more planned, they all produce huge amounts of methane. Over the last 30 years, the levels of methane produced from landfills has dramatically reduced, but in 2019 it was still 14.4 million metric tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), and this does prove that the effort to recycle is working but also shows we need to do much more. Another issue with landfill sites is the water that passes through the waste absorbs chemicals from partially decomposed waste. This water can then make its way into the nearby water systems and streams then affecting the ecosystems that live in those rivers, and because this water is filled with chemicals, even after a landfill site has closed, this water has to be monitored for decades. By recycling more we can reduce the amount that goes into landfills and therefore reduce the amount of methane and chemicals released.
By utilising recycled materials to make new products we can further reduce our current unsustainable resource demand and recycled products require far less energy input compared to raw material. As mentioned in one of our previous blogs, the amount of resources we pull from our planet is currently exceeding what is sustainable. What’s great is that some products can be recycled indefinitely without any loss of quality such as glass and metals, with metals actually retaining a high value. With the advancements of technology for recycling, the quality of products made from recycled tissue pulp has increased massively, with the average piece of paper being recycled anywhere from 5-7 times. After this, the pulp becomes a little too damaged to be used for new paper and is instead used to make egg boxes and packaging inserts.
Finally Recycling products can also substantially reduce environmental harm. Raw products require extracting the material which will produce vast quantities of CO2, and may also destroy habitats, such as forests and rivers affecting the local wildlife. This material will then need to be transported (potentially halfway round the world) to be refined again producing more CO2. Not only is there environmental harm, but can also cause human illness. Mining raw materials for electronic products can increase the chance of workers getting respiratory illnesses. They can also cause acidification, ozone depletion, and water depletion. So by recycling and using recycled materials, those detrimental effects can be eliminated.
To really make recycling a success we all do need to put some effort into it. Whilst we know the majority of products that can and cannot be recycled, not many of us know that if, for example, your the bottom of your pizza box (which is usually made from 100% recycled cardboard) is covered in grease then it cannot be recycled, so you will have to tear off the geasy bit, throw that away, and recycle the rest. This is because there is a great risk in the grease contaminating the rest of the recycled products, and therefore recycling plants may have to reject tons of otherwise recyclable products because of this contamination.So what can we all do to recycle more effectively?
First of all it’s a great idea to recycle plastic bags separately, with most supermarkets now offering plastic bag recycling schemes, so next time you go shopping, take your old plastic bags and bread bags, and recycle them in store.
Try not to shred all your paper. Whilst its not always avoidable, and we may need to shred confidential or private information, it can be more difficult to recycle. In recent years recycling has improved to accept shredded paper, but it’s still a better option to keep the paper as it is.For those plastic bottles, such as small water bottles or larger 2 liter bottles, it is recommended to rinse them out and then squash them. This way you are stopping any contamination and making more space to recycle more.
One last tip is to always read your local recycling guide. This can usually be found on your local council website and gives you information about what exactly can and cannot be recycled in your local area.