Once our trash and recycling bins have been collected, how many of us give it a second thought? I suspect there aren’t many! Just what does happen to all of our recycling waste?
What do we recycle?
In 2003/04 in the UK for example, 30.5 million tonnes of waste were produced and only 17% of that was recycled. This figure is very low considering that many other European neighbouring countries recycled up to 50% of their waste. This means that there was a mass amount of waste which could have been recycled, and instead, made its journey to the landfill sites. In 2015, that figure had risen to 44.3% of recyclable waste, which is still well below its neighbouring counterparts. With all of the UK newspapers manufactured being 100% recyclable, and over 80% of glass collected being recycled and reused within the UK, there really is no excuse to send any of these items to landfill.
So as a nation, are we all just lazy, or do we all just need educating?
Glass is one of the most important materials in terms of recycling. This is because it is one of the few substances which will return to the same composition and structure during the recycling process, which means it can be used and recycled over and over again, whilst retaining the same high quality and purity of its first manufacture. From Glass windows, bottles, jars, glasses to paperweights and engraved trophies and awards; virtually any glass product can be recycled and reformed into new glass products.
To start with, the glass is cleaned and sorted separating all the different types and colours. Once the loads have been separated approximately 90% will be deemed pure enough to go to the smelters and production of new glass products. The remaining 10% will not be pure enough for the recycling process, and so will be used as aggregate within the construction industry. Nothing is wasted.
Metals are slightly different, as they are taken away by local processors, who sort and separate the different types of metal. They are sold off to different sectors within the metal industry. So long as there is a high metal content in items you are disposing of, you can still send items off to the recycling centre. Recycling metals not only saves natural resources but avoids the destruction associated with mining.It also saves a vast amount of energy in comparison to using raw material.
With so much paper used in everyday life, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most easily recyclable materials known. It can take as few as 7 days for a newspaper to be recycled into a newspaper again! And with over 65% of paper and cardboard being recycled, the deficit in CO2 emissions through recycling amounts to the equivalent of 3.5 million cars being taken off the road.
Should recyclables be exported?
With countries such as China prepared to pay a premium for recyclables such as waste plastic, it’s not surprising this is one debate that has raged over the years. These commodities are not readily available to such countries, and so could mean the revenue gained from such an export could be very lucrative. But would that mean wasting one resource to save another? After all transportation of the materials would have a massive impact on the environment.
It’s crucial to our planet that we take care of each and every one of its resources. We can all do our bit by thinking about the things we throw away. Could we reuse rather than recycle? With an upward trend in ‘upcycling’, not everything we think is destined for landfill needs to be. A restoration project, or a simpleclean up might just give a new lease of life to a pre-loved item we thought was only fit for the bin. And in today’s buyers’ market, where there is such a demand for unique and exclusive pieces, a successful renovation (particularly furniture) could see a hobby turn into a money making venture!