Recycling is one of the most visible aspects of the growing material waste problem. Material waste, particularly plastic waste, is a separate, though related, environmental emergency to carbon emissions. However, it poses no less a significant threat to long-term human survival on this planet than climate change.
Recycling is the idea that a given material can be processed and turned into another form of itself. Unfortunately, in practice this is a largely mythical goal. Recycling cannot, at this stage, be relied upon to solve the problem of waste.
To this day, the vast majority of materials produced are not able to be recycled. A study from 2008 found that only 6.5% of US post-consumer plastic was recycled, and subsequent studies have found that by 2015 only 25% of municipal waste in the US was actually recycled. An improvement, but far short of sustainable.
The only real solution to the scourge of post-consumer waste is reductions in buying habits and the prolonged reuse of materials for as long as feasible, coupled with future advances in the technology and economics of industrial recycling.
Carbon calculators, while good indicators of greenhouse gas emissions, are generally poor indicators of overall waste produced.
- We aim to provide members with further tools and advice on waste and recycling moving forward.
- Thoroughly research commercial recycling service providers in your area. Choose those who can recycle the widest range of materials. Be aware that not all recycling companies provide the same level of service.
- Where possible, purchase products composed of and/or packaged in ‘traditional’ materials such as glass, metals, natural fibres, wood, or paper.
- Avoid buying anything made of more modern polymers of foams which may produce harmful pollutants. Any increased carbon required to clean and maintain ‘traditional’ products are usually justifiable carbon expenses in the interests of reducing harmful post-consumer waste.
- Reuse materials to the point of failure before replacing. Materials such as the so-called ‘bags for life’ are only environmentally justifiable if they are indeed reused dozens to hundreds of times over before being properly recycled.
- Recycle materials in line with local regulations or capabilities. If unsure whether a material can be recycled, and guidance from local authorities is unavailable, then it is often better to dispose of the item in the general waste bin. When purchasing an item, it is best to check the recycling capabilities in your local area before buying to make sure that the product and/or its packaging can be recycled.
- Check with your buildings maintenance staff to make sure they are properly disposing of waste. Often, the contents of both recycling and waste bins get loaded into a single skip after emptying, thus negating the act of recycling.
- Have a range of bins available for the most common materials used (metals and glass, card and paper, etc.) and make information available to staff on their proper use. Remember, that in most cases, all items must be dry and uncontaminated by food and organic matter to be able to be recycled.
- Avoid consuming single-use items. Especially materials made of fossil-fuel derived artificial polymers such as bottled water, packaging foam, or disposable plastic packaging. Vote-with-your-wallet by boycotting services and companies that use single-use items in their operations, such as shipping companies or food delivery services.