Sustainable Waste | The 3rd R: Recycling

Recycling saves energy, reduces raw material extraction and combats climate change. The vast majority of studies have found that recycling our rubbish is better for the environment rather than incinerating or landfilling it.

It is clear that one way of managing our resources successfully for the future lies in recycling the resources and the products of those resources, again and again. Filling our life with one-shot products and packaging, like paper, cans, plastic bags, plastic trays that microwave meals come in, wine bottles and cardboard, is not sustainable. These products need to either last longer and be useable for a continued range of uses, or to be made more biodegradable in order to be recycled easier into a raw material again, which can then be reprocessed and reused.

Most  of  the  UK’s  waste  is  currently  buried  in  landfill sites, which release climate change gases and pollute the soil and water. EU law ask to dramatically reduce the amount of biodegradable waste in landfill.

Why recycle?

  1. Recycling saves raw materials. Recycling reduces the need for raw materials such as metal, or wood and so reduces our impact on the environment. The level of our consumption in the UK already has a significant impact on the environment and we’re consuming an everyday increasing quantity of raw materials.
  2. Recycling reduces our impact on climate change. In fact, although recycling uses energy, overall it reduces climate emissions, as recycling a material generally uses far less energy than manufacturing from virgin materials. For example, recycling paper saves three times as much energy as it is produced by burning it. Recycling plastic saves five times the energy created by burning it. The  UK’s  current  recycling  of  those  materials  saves  between  10-15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year compared to applying the current mix of landfill and incineration with energy recovery to the same materials. This is equivalent to about 10 per cent of the annual CO2 emissions from the transport sector, and equates to taking 3.5 million cars off UK roads.
  3. Recycling costs less. When comparing landfill, incineration and recycling, recycling has considerable economic merit.
  4. Recycling generates cash. After collection, recyclables are separated, transported at materials recycling facilities and sent to reprocessors such as paper mills, glass works or plastic reprocessing plants where the waste is processed for use in new products. Although it costs local authorities money to collect recycling, the materials can be sold. This money can be fed back into the waste collection budget.
  5. Recycling creates jobs. The process of recycling and composting, from kerbside collection to sorting and reprocessing of recyclables, creates more jobs than incineration and landfill. Studies have estimated that for every tonne recycled 5.9 jobs are created. It has also been suggested that recycling newspapers creates three times as many jobs as incinerating them.
How convenience is killing our planet

It is essential to know the importance of buying responsibly made products, such as glass bottles made from recycled glass, or plain paper made from recycled paper, and responsibly recycling these products after use, because we all are playing our part in ensuring that this generation, and generations to come, have a sustainable future ahead. It is clear that if the British public conscientiously recycles all their domestic products, and all the municpal Councils collect it all up, but then we ship it off to be processed in China, or elsewhere, this is not truly sustainable behaviour. Shipping waste off for others to deal with consumes energy, which contributes to the National output of carbon and greenhouse gases, and means absolving responsibility.


FriendsOfTheEarth (2008). Recycling. Why it’s important and how to do it. London, Friends of the Earth.

ERM,  2006,  “Impact  of  Energy  from  Waste  and  Recycling  Policy  on  UK  Greenhouse  Gas   Emissions,  Final  Report  for  Defra”, .pdf

Waste & Resources Action Programme, 2006,  “Environmental  benefits  of  recycling:  An   international  review  of  life  cycle  comparisons  for  key  materials  in  the  UK  recycling  Sector”

Friends  of  the  Earth,  2000,  “Beyond  the  Bin,  Economics  of  Waste  Management  Options,  a   Summary  Report”,  p27.  Also  research  by  the  Environmental  Research  Foundation  has  found   that recycling is cheaper than incineration.


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