Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We’re all familiar with the three “R’s” by now, but what are the benefits of recycling, what does our recycling do, and what really happens to our household rubbish and waste?
In this article, we’ll delve into the world of recycling, explain some of the facts, reveal the fiction, and give you a clearer understanding of what happens to those drinks cans, plastic bottles, paper boxes, and glass jars you have just put in your recycling bin.
UK Waste & Recycling Statistics
According to the latest report released by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), we produced 222.2 million tons of waste in the UK in 2019. Of that, 26.4 million tons came from British households, equating to roughly 400kg per person. That’s a lot of rubbish!
We recycled 46.2% of our household waste during that same year, a 1.2% increase on 2018. But that means we still sent over 14 million tons of rubbish to landfills. So why aren’t we recycling more? It seems there is still a lot of confusion when it comes to recycling in the UK.
To overcome this, we need better labelling on recyclable packaging and clear-cut guidelines from our local authorities as to what goes in which recycling bin. But perhaps most importantly of all, we need to know what our recycling does and how recycling benefits our planet.
What Can My Recycling Do?
Recycling not only cuts climate-changing carbon emissions but can save energy, conserve natural resources, and reduce the demand for new raw materials. It can help councils save money on waste collection and disposal, create new employment opportunities, and protect fragile ecosystems and wildlife populations.
Recycling is essential, if we do it right, we can make a difference. Here’s what your recycling can do:
Recycling Aluminium Cans – The Facts
Aluminium is perhaps, the most recyclable material in the world and the most valuable item in your recycling bin. Sourced from the earth’s crust, aluminium ore (otherwise known as bauxite) is a durable and versatile element that is first mined and then refined to create the pure metal we use every day. An estimated 75 per cent of aluminium ever produced is still in use today.
- Over 90 per cent of all drinks cans in the UK are made of aluminium.
- Aluminium is the most cost-effective material to recycle.
- Recycling aluminium drinks cans uses only 5 per cent of the energy needed to make new cans. Or put another way, it saves 95 per cent of energy compared to making new cans from raw materials.
- We produce over 9 billion aluminium drinks cans in the UK each year.
- But we recycle just 5.9 billion aluminium drinks annually.
The Benefits of Recycling Aluminium Cans
- Recycling aluminium does not affect the quality of the metal, so we can recycle it time and again to make new products.
- Most aluminium cans are recycled into new cans and can be back on supermarket shelves in as little as 60 days.
- Recycling a single aluminium drink can save enough energy to power a laptop for 10 hours.
- For every tonne of aluminium we recycle, we save seven tonnes of CO2 emissions.
- You can recycle cans for cash and make as much as 50p per kilo.
Recycling Plastic – The Facts
With a history dating back to 1907, plastic is a relatively new material, but one that has changed the way we live today. We use it for packaging everything from food to clothing. To make textiles and components. To build electronics and industrial machinery. And it features in almost every sector of construction, transportation, and manufacturing.
Plastic is practical and convenient; it is lightweight and durable. But sadly, its impact on the planet has proven catastrophic. Plastic pollution is a global concern we need to act on now, and recycling is the perfect place to start.
- We manufacture an estimated 3.7 million tonnes of plastic in the UK each year.
- 2.2 million tonnes of that goes towards making plastic packaging.
- We recycle just 32 per cent of all plastics. However, we’re doing better with packaging and plastic bottles, recycling 50 per cent and 77 per cent, respectively.
- Making plastic bottles from recycled plastic uses 75 per cent less energy than making them from raw materials.
- We use approximately 7.7 billion plastic bottles in the UK every year – that’s 150 bottles per person!
The Benefits of Recycling Plastic
- Recycling one tonne of plastic saves 5,775 kWh of energy – that’s enough to power your entire home for 18 months.
- Recycling a single PET plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a lightbulb for more than 30 hours.
- By recycling all our plastic household waste, we can prevent 260 million tonnes of it from heading straight into the world’s oceans.
- Recycled plastic is highly versatile. We can use it to make clothing, bags, carpets, and other plastic items. Recycling 15 plastic bottles create enough fibre to fill a ski jacket. Recycle a further 100 bottles, and you have enough to fill a sleeping bag.
- One tonne of plastic takes up 30 cubic yards of landfill space, so recycling them will help save space!
Recycling Electrical Goods (WEEE) – The Facts
Recycling Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is essentially, any electrical item that operates with a plug or battery. It could be a large household appliance such as a fridge-freezer or washing machine, tech accessories such as smartphones and iPads, lighting equipment, or medical devices.
Under WEEE Regulations, manufacturers, importers, and distributors must reduce the volume of electrical and electronic waste sent to landfill sites. There are strict recycling targets in place, and those who fail to meet them could face a fine of up to £5,000.
- Due to our increasing demand for technology, electrical goods waste (also known as WEEE and E-Waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK.
- Globally, we generate 50 million tonnes of WEEE waste every year.
- Over 2 million tonnes of that comes from homes and businesses in the UK.
- The amount of WEEE we produce is rising three times faster than world population numbers.
- In 2019, the Global E-Waste Monitor Report revealed that the UK is the second-largest producer of electrical waste worldwide, coming in just behind Norway.
The Benefits Of Recycling Electrical Goods & WEEE Waste
- If we recycled all our unwanted electricals, we could save 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – that’s the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road.
- There is a lot of money in WEEE waste. The UK economy could save an estimated £370 million per year if we recycled all household electricals.
- TVs, laptops, Smartphones, and small WEEE goods contain precious metals and valuable components made of platinum, gold, and silver – making WEEE recycling a billion-pound business.
- You can make money from your old and unwanted tech accessories by selling them online, even if they are no longer working.
- Recycling one million laptops could generate enough energy to power over 3,500 homes for a year.
What Happens If We Don’t Recycle…
If you are still on the bench about recycling, these startling decomposition statistics will have you rinsing yoghurt pots, collecting newspapers, and putting your recycling bins to good use:
- It takes around 250 years for aluminium cans to decompose at landfill sites, yet we can recycle them and have them back on shelves in as little as eight weeks.
- How long does it take for a plastic bottle to decompose? Around 450 years! According to a study by Science Magazine, we could have more plastic bottles than fish in our oceans by 2050 – a scary thought.
- Despite increasing efforts by supermarkets and high-street stores, single-use plastic bags remain one of the biggest polluters on our planet. It can take up to 1,000 years for a carrier bag to decompose in a landfill site. That’s ten centuries!
- Estimates suggest that it could take over one million years for a glass bottle to decompose. It seems a shame for something that is 100 per cent recyclable.
- Remember that Styrofoam coffee cup you had yesterday? That Styrofoam box that your takeaway arrived in last night? It’s here to stay. Styrofoam, while lightweight, practical and cost-effective, is possibly the worse polluter of all. It NEVER decomposes.
Your recycling can do a lot more than you think, and it all starts right at home in your recycling bin. The benefits of recycling are endless, if we have piqued your interest, check out the rest of our blog. Or for even more recycling facts, check out our dedicated section here.