Recycling isn’t exactly the sexiest topic in the world, but in the realms of sustainability, it is a pretty important one.
57% of ‘waste’* in the UK ends up in landfill – huge toxic dumps which contribute to water pollution (through groundwater leaching), air pollution and visual pollution (they just look gross, right?) More than half of the stuff which ends up at these sites could easily be recycled, if only it was disposed of correctly.
Landfill sites are a double-edged sword. Not only is the material which ends up there being wasted, but all of the energy, water and carbon which was used to create it in the first place, is effectively being wasted too.
The final note to add, is that rubbish dumps cost us a lot of money. Specifically, landfill charges cost the UK over £1.5billion per year: imagine what we could do with that money instead!? We’re literally throwing it away.
So what can we do?
Well, everyone has heard the term ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’. Recycling is the final thing mentioned, because reducing waste or reusing products are both preferable options – however, for anything which genuinely can’t be reused, recycling is significantly better than throwing it away**.
Lots of people already recycle a lot of the waste that we produce in our homes. Unfortunately however, there is no standardised list of things which can or can’t be recycled, due to different methods used by different local councils. For some areas, recycling consists of multiple different waste streams (i.e. separating out your paper from your plastics). Other areas might have ‘mixed recycling’ facilities, meaning that you can bung it all in one bin. Many people (myself included) often end up putting things into their recycling bin, even if they’re not sure whether or not it can be recycled. The thought of “oh, if it can’t be recycled, it’ll just get filtered out” is one which makes a lot of common sense, but which unfortunately isn’t always the case.
In the last 5 years, the amount of material rejected by recycling centres has risen by 84%. This is mainly due to two problems:
– Anything contaminated with food, cannot be processed. By putting 1 unclean yoghurt pot or pizza box in our recycling bin, the whole lot becomes unusable.
– Smaller recycling facilities often don’t have the ability or manpower to ‘filter out’ stuff which is unsuitable. If bags of recycling come in which include a couple of non-recyclable items, then the whole lot goes to landfill.
It’s pretty ridiculous right? However, a REALLY easy thing which we can all do as part of the 2017 Sustainable revolution, is to make sure that our recycling efforts are actually working. If you’re ever unsure about whether you can put something in your recycling bin, just use this checklist:
– Does it have food on it? If yes, can it be cleaned?
– Does the packaging say it can be recycled? Keep your eye out for these logos
– Does your council recycle it? Use this handy tool if you’re unsure
So there we have it. A 2 second glance at a label is all it takes to be more sustainable. Easy enough, right?
*Waste should really be seen as a raw material. Whether it’s plastic or food or textiles or electronics, there is potential energy in everything: so if an object’s primary function has ceased to be relevant, the raw materials can normally be repurposed into something else! Therefore, rather than talking about ‘waste collection’ maybe we should call it ‘urban mining’?
**There is no such thing as ‘away’. Items we put in the bin don’t mysteriously disappear, they just get hidden from view in ugly landfill sites. We need to stop using this phrase!