Why is Recycling Important?
In recent years, climate emergencies have been declared, David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II brought home the devastating effects that plastic waste is having on the environment and on wildlife, and there has been an increased emphasis on the need to recycle.
We’re a hugely consumer-driven society, and recycling converts the things we throw away into new items, making sure that none of the energy and raw materials used to make them goes to waste. It also prevents the air and ground pollution, and the release of greenhouse gases that results from dumping was waste on landfill sites.
But recycling does much more than this. You might think that dutifully putting your plastic bottles and aluminium cans in the recycling doesn’t make that much of a difference, but take it from us, it really does.
Why is recycling important?
Recycling preserves precious natural resources
Recycling items rather than using raw materials to make new things preserves the planet’s natural resources which, in the face of population growth and growing demand, won’t last forever.
It saves energy
Recycling materials uses less energy than extracting, processing, and transporting raw materials to make new products.
It causes far less harm to the environment and animals than extracting raw materials
Think about how raw materials are usually extracted, and what harm these activities might do to the earth. Mining, quarrying, logging, and fracking all cause harm to the planet by causing air and water pollution. These activities can also destroy precious animal habitats.
It reduces the amount of waste that is sent to landfill
Recycling more reduces the amount of waste we send to landfill. When waste sits rotting away on landfill, it leaches toxins into the groundwater and soil, and gives off greenhouse gases like methane as it decomposes, which contributes to global warming. Not only that, if recyclable items are sent to landfill, the precious raw materials and energy that went into making them are lost.
Recycling creates jobs
The more we recycle; the more jobs are created in recycling plants. There will also be more jobs created in recycling innovation and technology, new packaging and product design, and more as the industry develops.
What are the most commonly recycled items?
When it comes to recycling, some items are more widely-recycled than others. These are the materials that are easily recycled and don’t reduce in quality once they’ve been recycled. If you get confused every time you go to your recycling bin, know that these items are no cause for concern.
This is one of the most easily recycled materials, which is good news, considering how many drinks cans we use. Drinks cans can easily made into new cans with no loss in the quality of the material.
Paper and cardboard
Paper and cardboard is usually easily recycled (unless it has excessive tape or embellishment attached or it is soiled). Newspapers in the UK are made exclusively from recycled paper.
Glass is easy to recycle and turn into other products like new jars, bottles, and road surfaces. It uses far less energy to recycle glass than to make new glass from raw materials.
What are the hardest things to recycle?
The things that are hard (or virtually impossible) to recycle, are usually items made of a combination of materials. This makes processing very difficult once they reach the recycling plant. Pringles tubes are one of the most obvious examples we can think of when it comes to hard to recycle items. The packaging contains metal, foil, cardboard, and plastic, making it a recycler’s nightmare. Other hard to recycle items include:
Black plastic ready-meal and food trays
Black plastic often gets missed by the infra-red sensors used to sort plastic in recycling plants, so it often gets discarded as waste.
Cleaning product bottles
The bottles are often made of a combination of plastics, and if it’s a spray bottle, there will be a metal spring in the dispensing mechanism which makes them harder to recycle.
Toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes usually aren’t accepted for recycling and end up in the bin, thought brands like Colgate are taking the lead in introducing initiatives to recycle more dental products.
It might be handy for wrapping your sandwiches but it’s definitely not good for the environment. It’s impossible to recycle and can’t be reused.
Once you pop it, you can’t stop, and you usually can’t recycle it either. The good news is that it can be easily reused to wrap valuables you’re sending in the post or to protect things you have in storage.
Nappies and other sanitary products
There are some brave companies trying to innovate in this area, but generally, these products are a biohazard and can’t be recycled.
The netting that wraps your fruit
Those little nets that house your oranges and satsumas so well are unrecyclable and if they are discarded, they can pose a hazard for wildlife who might get trapped in them.
So what about plastics, are they hard to recycle?
When it comes to plastics, recycling gets a little more complicated. PET, the plastic that’s used to make water bottles, is widely recyclable, but with other types of plastic, it’s not that straightforward.
Know your numbers
If you look at the label on any plastic product, it will have a number from 1-7 on it, inside of a triangle. This is called the plastic resin ID code, which indicates the type of plastic it is and whether it can be recycled or not.
If you see the number 3, 4, or 5 on the label:
If a plastic is labelled 3, it’s likely to be vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is used to make food packaging and blister packs for medication.
Type 4 plastic is low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is used in plastic bags.
Type 5 is polypropylene (PP) which is used to make bottle tops and carpets.
These types of plastics aren’t widely recyclable, so the best thing you can do is try to reuse them wherever possible. For example, use plastic bags as bin liners, or to store your child’s PE kit or lunch in their school bag, and use bottle tops in art and craft projects.
If you see the number 7 on the label:
Type 7 plastics are known as ‘other plastics’ and these are usually made from a mix of different plastic resins. Plastics in this group include nylon and plastics like styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and polycarbonate (PC). SAN and ABS are food grade plastics, but PC can leach harmful compounds, so if there is a mix of these resins in one product, the chances are, it’s headed straight to landfill and can’t be recycled.
Our advice is that when it comes to plastics, reduce your use of non-recyclable plastics as much as possible, and reuse any plastic containers that are food safe to store food and snacks.
Does recycling really matter?
This is a question you’ve probably asked yourself many times. Will it make that much of a difference if you put a few cans, tins, and bottles into your recycling bin every week? The answer is a resounding yes. And if you’re still not convinced, here’s why.
If you think that recycling your Diet Coke cans is just another pointless chore, think again. Recycling just one aluminium can saves enough energy to power a 100-watt bulb for around 4 hours.
If you think that there’s not much point in recycling glass, know that glass can be recycled over and over again with no loss in quality. Add to this the fact that 80% of recycled glass is made into new glass bottles and for every 20 glass bottles you recycle, you save about 2 pounds of carbon emissions, and you’ll see how important it is.
These are only a few examples, but generally, the more waste you recycle, the less carbon emissions end up in the atmosphere and this equals a healthier planet, for us, and for generations to come.
What happens if we don’t recycle?
The planet might be abundant in natural resources, but at the rate we’re using them up, they won’t last for long. Then there’s the issue of more waste going to landfill, and more greenhouses gases being released into the atmosphere if we don’t recycle more. If we don’t up our recycling game:
Natural resources and fossil fuels will run out pretty quickly
Current estimates suggest that fossil fuels will run out by 2050. Fossil fuels are used for many things including to make plastics, so if we don’t recycle plastics, we have to draw from the precious depleting reserve. Other materials are also running out, from the precious metals used in electronics to the wood from the trees that are rapidly disappearing from some of the world’s woodlands and rainforests.
Landfill space will run out
We can’t keep producing more and more waste without making an effort to recycle. Landfill space in the UK is running out, and apart from that, sending waste to landfill is an expensive and unsustainable option anyway.
More greenhouse gas will be released into the atmosphere
Greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide contribute to global warming, and the breakdown of the vast mountains of waste on landfill sites is a big contributor. If we don’t recycle, this problem will only get worse.
Is upcycling a better alternative to recycling?
Upcycling is becoming ever more popular, and in case you don’t quite get what it is, it’s taking something that would otherwise be thrown away and giving it a new lease of life. Recycling breaks down an item into its original materials so they can be reused, and upcycling takes an old thing and makes it better than the original. But is upcycling better than recycling?
Upcycling and recycling save waste from landfill and preserve raw materials, but with upcycling, you can get creative with ways to reuse your old items (and you can get the kids involved). Some people even turn a new-found love of upcycling into a money-maker; how many people have you seen selling upcycled furniture and other items that are made from things that probably would have been thrown away?
It’s worth remembering though, that not everything can be upcycled, so make good use of your recycling bin in these cases. Otherwise, go and create that shabby chic garden seat from those old wooden pallets in your garage!
How can I recycle more?
Many of us have good intentions when it comes to recycling, but some of us fall short of recycling more whether it’s due to confusion about what we can recycle, or the belief that it just takes too much effort.
But here’s the thing, recycling more doesn’t take a particularly huge effort. Here are some things you can start doing to improve the way you recycle.
Reuse or recycle plastic bags you have
If you have a big bundle of plastic bags at home, either reuse them or take them to a recycling point (many supermarkets have them now.) Don’t put them in with your recycling bin, as they can clog up the machinery in the recycling plant. Remember your reusable bags when you go to the supermarket so you don’t continually add to your plastic bag collection!
Crush plastic bottles and keep the lids on
This removes air from the bottles, creates more space in your recycling bin, and makes recycling more efficient.
Give your recyclables a rinse
Don’t put your grease-laden cardboard box into the recycling as it will cause contamination, as will any bottles, jars, or containers that contain the dregs of food or drink. Give them a rinse and you’ll avoid contaminating the whole batch of recycling.
Get clued up on local recycling
While confusing, each local authority in the UK has different rules about what it will and won’t accept for recycling. Visit your local council’s website for information on what you can put in your recycling bin and what has to be taken to a recycling centre or put in with your general waste. With many councils now clamping down on people who flout the rules, it’s probably a good idea to get clued up on recycling in your area.
We hope this article has answered some of your burning recycling questions.
Until next time,