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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Recycling costs less. When comparing landfill, incineration and recycling, recycling has considerable economic merit.
- 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.
- 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.
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”, http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=WR0609_5737_FRP .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.