Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Future for Recycling?


Recycling.  We all do it to a lesser or greater degree.  We separate out plastic, glass, paper, cans etc placing them in whichever bin our council says we should and get that slightly warm and fuzzy feeling that we have just done our bit to help the environment.


However is recycling always the best way to deal with much of our our rubbish?



Not all materials can be easily recycled and the amount of energy needed to recycle things varies:

Glass can be recycled indefinitely but the cost of recycling it back to new glass is only about 20% cheaper than creating new glass. With raw materials readily available it therefore does not always make sense to recycle it.  The majority of glass that goes into recycling bins in the UK is green glass and it is actually made into building aggregate since as well as the cost of recycling it, most comes from imported wine bottles and the bottles would need to be exported back to the countries where wine is produced, adding yet more cost to the process.  The UK simply does not have a market for the recycled bottles.

Recycling aluminium uses 96% less energy than getting "new" aluminium from bauxite and it can also be recycled indefinitely without degrading and therefore recycling cans makes good sense.

Newsprint is fairly economical to recycle (46% less energy than creating new) but it soon reaches a state where its quality is degraded too much for it to be used again.

Plastic is more complicated as there are so many different types found in consumer goods.  Soft drinks bottles are mostly made from PET (Polyethenylene tetraphthalate) and whilst PET can be  recycled the process is more expensive than making new bottles from petroleum.  Instead most PET bottles are down-cycled into polyester to be used in carpets and clothing which invariably end up in landfill when they are no longer needed as they cannot be recycled.

When it comes to goods made from different materials e.g. electronics and white goods then recycling becomes more difficult and more expensive.  Large amounts of these goods are sold to China where high demand for the raw materials contained within them and cheap labour to extract them makes recycling viable.  Container ships arrive in China loaded with Western recycling and return full of new goods, made from the constituent parts, heading for our shops.  However, many electronics contain products that can be harmful to both the environment and workers dismantling them.

There is also the problem of contaminated recycling where items are put in the wrong bins which are then rejected.  In 2014-15, 338,000 tonnes of recycling was rejected in this way in the UK.

Economics and ease of recycling both play a large part in what is recycled and what happens to all those things we happily put in our recycling bins.  It is all too easy to think that the glass or plastic bottle, newspaper or tin can we recycle will live on in the same form but this is not always the case and economics still trumps the environment in most cases.

So what should we be doing in the future?

We cannot keep adding waste to landfill and we need to increase how much of our waste is recycled.  This currently stands between 30% and 45% in the UK depending what report you read but compared to Austria and Holland at 60% the UK could do better.   But recycling is not cheap and itself uses large amounts of energy but by reducing the amount of packaging used we can reduce the amount of recycling needed.

Recycling needs to be made easier for the public which can be achieved by technology developing better recycling centres to sort the waste and cheaper methods of actually recycling it.   If we are to continue using plastic we need to find a way to recycle it back to the same form and not a downgraded form that will then go to landfill.  Ultimately though, the amount of plastic we can recycle will depend on how much fossil fuel is available as this is its raw materiel which is a finite resource.

We need to buy products that are made from recycled materials to help drive down the price of recycling.

Re-using products is another solution.  Not many years ago far more products were reused rather than recycled.  The average glass milk bottle is used 4-6 times (and often more) where-as a plastic bottle gets used just once before it is turned into a fleece top for example which cannot be recycled.  That said, re-using is not without its problems as glass itself is heavy to transport and cleaning the bottles uses energy.

Less packaging, better recycling and re-using are all ways to hep deal with the amount of waste we create.  However there is one huge step we could all take to help reduce this problem of waste and recycling ... if we were all to consume less in the first place then we would need to recycle less.  This is the most sustainable solution but perhaps one that not too many people are willing as yet to adopt.

Do you think you could consume less to reduce your waste and recycling burden on the planet?


19 comments :

  1. milk delivery was a fine example of recycling and supporting your local farmers.
    the glass bottles were collected by the same truck that delivered them the day before. there was fresh milk waiting on the doorstep in the morning...
    a thought provoking piece about how our waste is used.

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    1. Thank you - would that more people bought milk form the local milk delivery in glass bottles ...

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  2. Instead of binning envelopes from your mail, please help charity!

    Please save your used postage stamps for the RNLI (ROYAL NATIONAL LIFEBOAT INSTITUTION). I save them for our local RNLI, and have been doing this for about 10 years. Please, save them off your letters, and pass them on. (they are sold on to stamp collectors, to raise funds) . All stamps are welcome, new and old, from anywhere in the world. Please send them to me at
    Lara,
    7 Speedwell,
    Brixham,
    Devon TQ5 9MJ,
    UK.
    Please include a note with your email address, if you would like me to confirm reciept. I am also listed, with other charities, at the website http://usedstampsforcharity.weebly.com/. If you have a charity that collects used stamps, then do contact the site and they will list you too. :)

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  3. I'd add to this that the whole idea of biodegradable stuff being environmentally friendly is rubbish! Organic matter and papers biodegrade to create methane gas, which causes global warming. So switching to biodegradable is not a good idea. Reuse the same cup over and over again. Stop throwing; start reusing. Make your own wine! We have a shop in town who's started charging people for paper bags to encourage them to bring their own - even for food items measured and sold by 100g.

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    1. That's really interesting Susie and something I will look into in more detail - thank you.

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  4. Some really interesting stats Rosie, it's so easy to presume that recycling is the gold standard. I like to re-use where possible, although that does mean I have a house full of stuff just in case!

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    1. Ha ha, same here. I really need to do some more reducing even before re-using.

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  5. I'd love to try and reduce our waste. I can empty our recycling bin in the morning and by the evening it will be full again. I'm inspired by people who try and go zero waste and although I think we're a long way off from that I can certainly try in some areas.

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    1. I have a zero waste blog forming in my head right now ... watch out for it in a later #GoingGreenLinky! Thanks so much for joining in with this one.

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  6. We have a local farm shop where we buy our nails,etc by weight and the shop pops them in paper bags for us. We buy as many as we need. No need for plastic bags and cardboard labels as we would get if we shopped in a diy shop. I don't think it costs more. I wish I could find more ways to buy like this. Would love to buy my flour in fabric sacks like they used to. Imagine.

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    1. Buying like that is called "en vrac" in France and you see it for some foods and DIY stuff but we need to see A LOT more. Did you also know that in WWII women would make dresses from the fabric flour sacks? So the companies started adding designs to the sacks to encourage ladies to buy their brand?

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  7. I think "recycling" has become a buzzword and people thing they're being eco friendly by having a full recycling bin every week, when in reality they're not at all (especially when it's mostly plastic in that bin!) Information is key to changing that mentality! And of course following the tips you share - moving towards less packaging and consumerism.
    /Anna @ notmadeinchinachallenge.com

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    1. You are right and I fear we have such a long way to go changing mentalities. I was talking with a friend recently about this linky and she said how it was a niche topic. It should not be niche, it should be mainstream and normal.

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  8. I definitely think we need to work our way back up the waste hierarchy. Recycling is perfect when we start a green journey, but as we become more consious we need to divert things not just from landfill, but from recycling too. The 3 Rs are in that order for a reason, right? And yes, once we get more comfortable in our sustainable lifestyle, we find the courage to refuse to buy things that do not fit our criteria. It's a journey, one that is constantly evolving.

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    1. You are so right Rae and this is pretty much what my blog is about, setting people off on that green journey. Every journey starts with one step and if I can help raise awareness of green issues so people take those first faltering steps then with luck they will realise it is not so difficult and they will have the confidence to go further.

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  9. Recycling definitely needs to be easier, but that has to start with clearer labelling. Some labelling has the recycle logo but on closer inspection it's not actually recylclable - totally misleading

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    1. I agree - recycling labelling is confusing and then what you can recycle varies depending where you live. Mind you, if we could reduce how much e need to recycle by reusing etc then that would be a huge benefit to the world.

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  10. Where I live the council built a huge incinerator in the 1970s which burns waste that would normally go to landfill and the energy created is used to light and heat a number of council buildings. Problem is because the amount of waste that goes to landfill is so low (just over 1%) they don't seem that bothered about recycling. They don't take foil, limited plastics, no food waste and withdrew the free garden waste service. It really doesn't encourage people to use less.

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    1. That sounds like where I live re the recycling but without the incinerator. We have no roadside collection although there are bins in every village that will take paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, tin cans and tetrapaks. No food or garden waste and no other plastic. They have however just clamped down on people putting glass bottles in the bin and they will refuse to take you rubbish and you get ared sticker slapped on to say why. But of course the real issue is actually reducing recycling as well as waste and this is going to be hard to achieve.

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