The UK’s Recycling System is Flawed
Ever wondered whether your recycling efforts are worthwhile? We’ve been made to believe from a young age that recycling is charitable and will save the world, but as our knowledge around sustainability rapidly expands, a lot of us are left questioning what exactly will our last carton of Oat milk be turned into? Where are last night’s beer bottles being taken to? The fact is, recycling isn’t charitable, it’s a business and unless goods have the capacity to turn back into raw materials for purchase, they go straight to the landfill with the rest of our rubbish. No buyers, no recycling. A report from the National Audit Office found that more than half of the packaging designated as ‘recycled’ is actually sent abroad for processing, without the guarantee that it will be recycled rather than burned or placed in landfills.
Open Loop Systems
Recycling is often an open loop. An open look refers to a product that gets recycled into a completely different product e.g., turning plastic bottles into a pair of slippers. The problem with this is that the way the process works, means that it can only happen once, and so although it prologues landfill waste, it will inevitably still end up there in the end. In rare cases closed-loop recycling is possible whereby if recycling is sparkling clean and recycled in the right bin, it can theoretically be turned into the same material it was before. So, to provide as much hope as possible, make sure your recycling is sparkling clean, and if that pizza box is just too sodden with oil, it’s likely far too gone.
We all have the best intentions for recycling, but sometimes are blissfully unaware of our local recycling regulations, which leads to wishcycling based on what we think is right, rather than being sure. The introduction of mixed recycling has unfortunately gripped us with a hope-for-the-best attitude towards tossing empties into the recycling. However, chucking a non-recyclable item in with the rest, can cause the whole bag to be sent to the landfill. The machinery in recycling factories can’t tell the difference between plastic film and a piece of paper, so it’s likely to contaminate a whole batch of paper recycling. Other non-recyclable items can risk damaging the machinery itself, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
The devil that is plastic
Plastic is by far the waste that is the hardest to get right. Whilst tins and glass are easy to identify and can be hurled into recycling by the tonne, there are 40,000 different types of plastic, and are all treated with a different chemical process when recycled. For the sake of ease, 40,000 types have been condensed into 7 main plastics, but there it still much confusion around what plastics can and can’t be put in the recycling. There are many resources around to help you decipher what you can recycle in your local area, and if it can’t go in your own bin, there are often local recycling points which will accept a wider range of materials.
We hope this article has provided you with enough information to become your own recycling centre! It’s demotivating to hear that a system that looks to be doing good is so flawed, but there is always more we can do as a society to help our planet. And it’s true that even a little bit of behavioural change goes a long way.
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