Recycling Isn't Enough - Here's Why & What You Can Do

Shows dirty plastic bottle washed up on a beach. The background is beautiful with sun-setting, but the plastic bottle is not; demonstrating our single use plastic problem.

Don't get us wrong. Recycling is great and we implore all of you to take control of your waste. Encouraging citizens to recycle is a huge step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is not the be all and end all many of us somewhat naively think it is.

We put our used tins, aerosols, papers and plastics in the recycling bin. It will then be separated and made into something new; preventing it from entering our landfills and oceans, thus creating a sustainable loop whereby we can endlessly use these materials again and again...right?

Sadly not. At least not to the extent you would imagine or perhaps expect. While recycling is certainly better than using virgin material (requiring just 5% of the energy & material flow) is it not the overarching solution to our problem with waste. Let me elaborate...

Recycled materials aren't desirable for all companies

Unless they are hugely geared toward sustainability and environmental-friendliness, recycling can be more trouble than its worth to them financially. Think of recycling as a business, the bottom line is unless it makes financial sense for most companies they simply won't do it.

As it currently is, it's not a hugely sustainable option

Recycling as an industry requires huge resources and energy to pull off. We feel good putting our rubbish in the correct bins, and we should, it is the vital first step in ensuring less goes to landfill. However, as things are at the moment, the whole process involves much more than you first contemplate tossing that plastic bottle in with your recyclables. From your refuse collector initially emptying your blue bin, your recyclable waste goes on a journey: from sorting, to cleaning, to transportation, to the remanufacturing process itself. Throw in the fact that these facilities are generally outwith your country and a whole new context to the journey your plastic bottle goes on becomes clear. Once grouped, your bottles are put into massive bales and loaded onto a ship to be taken across the ocean to be used as a relatively cheap raw material in another manufacturing process. 

Not all 'recyclables' are all that recyclable

Some are more suited to recycling than others during the remanufacturing process. Take plastics for example. You know the little recycling symbol imprinted on plastic bottles with a number in its centre? That actually refers to its resin code - an indicator to those in the plastics industry of which kind of chemical compounds have been used in its manufacturing. Of the categories 1 through 7, only those with codes 1, 2 and 4 are generally recycled. Not only this but even those plastics 1, 2 and 4 that are remanufactured, each time they are processed they degrade, meaning more often than not have to made into a downcycled material - not back into another bottle as you may have imagined. On the contrary, materials like aluminium, glass and a variety of steels can be almost 'endlessly' recycled into the same items as before. Its all about choosing better.

Ultimately, just blindly relying or comforting ourselves into thinking it doesn't matter how much plastic we use; as long as we put it in the recycling bin - is a dangerous thought. Here at ReLove, we do truly believe in the potential of recycling, but having the outlook that 'recyclable' means you can be more care-free and disposable with what you buy still adds to our waste problem. Choosing more reusable, more biodegradable or more 'endlessly' recyclable materials is the best route forward to becoming a more sustainable you. The rest, in our humble opinion, is down to governments and big manufacturers to lead from the front with more precision and drive to eliminate plastic when a viable alternative exist; reducing needlessly wasteful and disposable materials in packaging and beyond.

Check out our plastic-free offerings - perfect for reducing your consumption and read our guide on overcoming the limitations of recycling!

Much of this article was also news to me in the months prior to designing this website. Despite being someone who has always been conscious of my recyclables, I had neglected to think too much about what happens after my bins are emptied. I suppose not many people do. It wasn't until stumbling upon an article that highlighted some of the horror stories of what happens next that I began to research what else was out there. Thus, much of what we offer at ReLove derives from the thoughts I write about in this blog, crafted from the unintentional stumbling upon eye-opening articles like 'Recycling Isn't Enough'.

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