We all know why recycling is important but, as with many things these days, the recycling myths have reached almost conspiracy levels. Add that to the misconceptions around the whole plastic recycling and usage issue and it can be handy to get back to basics and reiterate some simple recycling facts (and this really is back to basics!)…..
Why is recycling important?
Put really simply, there is too much plastic on the planet so we need to do something about it and until we can get EVERYONE to stop using plastic, recycling is a good way to limit it’s production. Plastic doesn’t decompose – it breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic (which can enter the food chain) or into harmful chemicals. Either way, it’s not good and to say that we need to slow down how quickly we’re making, and more importantly, chucking the stuff, is way beyond an understatement. A common myth is that plastic is only a problem in our oceans. Chemicals from plastics in landfill can find their way into our soil and water tables just as nastily as those in the seas.
Does Recycling Work?
Yes, if you check out what your council is offering to recycle and then only add that to recycling, it will be recycled. Recycling vans are not sneakily going to the tip through the back entrance and dumping it all
I do use plastic but I recycle so that’s alright, right? …..
Now, I don’t want to burst any bubbles here and seriously well done for recycling at all but, of all the recycling myths out there, this is possibly one of the most harmful. It’s harmful because it leads people who care about the planet to add to the plastic problems without realising they’re doing it. If that bottle you bought wasn’t made from recycled plastic then you have still added that plastic to the world. You can recycle it but it still exists – and it always will. By recycling newly created plastic you are simply asking someone else to do the good thing for the planet. Keep recycling – just start looking to see if the plastic you buy has already been recycled.
New plastic’s carbon footprint
It’s not just the existence of plastic that’s a problem, it’s the creation of plastic, the physical process of creation. Lets look at some facts and figures.
- The raw material for all plastic packaging is ethylene. Ethylene is a chemical result of either natural gas or crude oil
- Producing ethylene consumes at least 20 megajoules (MJ) per kilogram of ethylene produced. Twenty MJ would run a 100-watt light bulb for 56 hours
- Creating 1 kg of plastic produces about 6 kg of CO2
- Producing a 16 oz. PET bottle generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions to air and water than making the same size bottle out of glass
Recycling plastic’s carbon footprint
Recycling is a process that consumes energy and creates carbon gasses. In a perfect world we wouldn’t do this, there would be no toxic emissions at all. We all know though that our world is far from perfect and rejecting improvement in preference of unreachable perfection is an option that would cost us dear. Here are some recycling facts:
- Recycled plastic produces about 3.5 kg of CO2. That’s a saving of 2.5 kg CO2 compared with new.
- It takes 1/3 the amount of energy to produce new plastic products from recycled materials rather than raw (virgin) materials.
- Making new plastic is now cheaper in financial terms than using recycled plastic and money talks. This is a problem for the planet and has two main contributing factors. The first and most obvious is the falling price of oil. The second is us. As more people switch to mixed recycling bins, as we get lazier with sorting what we put in, as we get lazier at cleaning what we put it, the cost of sorting it all at the other end goes up.
If it’s that bad, can I make a difference?
Yes, yes you can. Every piece of plastic that hits our oceans or landfill is bad, therefore, every time a piece is prevented from hitting our oceans or landfill it is good. It only takes one bag to be mistaken for a jelly fish for a turtle to be in trouble. And you can prevent that every single day. Here’s how…..
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
(It’s not my mantra but it is a good one so I’m adopting it!!)
Reduce – cut down on the amount of plastic that you use – switch to alternatives, there are so many out there and the Plastic Free Portal is working to make this switch easier.
Reuse – that bottle of water you just finished can be refilled many many times before it stops working. When it’s no good for water, see if it can do anything else. My garden currently has loads of plastic bottles cut in half and placed over seeds – it’s cheaper than a green house!! Those take-out containers that once arrived with curry in – go to your local butcher and get them to put the meat straight into those rather than buying meat pre-packed. There’s a whole separate blog post coming on reuse ideas (you’re excited now aren’t you?)
Recycle – it’s important to recycle but it should the last option when all other options are done. Recycling is a final step, not the first one but it is a really really important one.
There is lots of more detailed information available on the web and it can change by country and area so if you want to learn more, Google is your friend. One thing that will not change though is the solution.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle
Probably the most important 3 R’s the planet has ever known.