Recycling. The problem with the recycling system
by Meghan Gane
A month ago
In this post I will explain the problem with the recycling system, what is recycling and the challenges and what we can do as consumers.
What is recycling and its purpose
It is the process of converting waste products into new materials e.g food and cosmetic packages.
Its purpose is to reduce the waste of potentially viable or useful materials and reduce the number of products produced from fresh raw materials. Hence this helps reduce energy usage, air pollution and water pollution.
Types of recyclables
Materials that can be recycled are:
The cost of recycling
One of the problem with the recycling system in the UK is that it has 450 councils with each of the different schemes and different rules. This is where the problem lies as it can create confusion for the general public. If you don’t get it right, your trash doesn’t get collected.
Cost does not only come with process fee
The cost of recycling is not only about the recycling process/fees but the impact it has on the environment, the workers, and the residents that live around the recycling sites. Recycling sites that are not well maintained or equipped, can cause land and water pollution.
In just 1-year British household throws 22 million of tone of waste and half of that suppose to be recycled. Unfortunately, that is not the case. A lot of the waste ends up in the landfill. Such trash sits in landfills for months or years. This leads to degradation that doesn’t make plastic viable for recycling anymore.
The nasty truth
78 million tones of plastic packaging are produced annually. After a short period of use, only 14% of that gets collected to be sorted for recycling. Only 2% of the collected plastic gets recycled into high-quality new packaging. Another 14% gets burned and another 40% gets landfilled. This can lead to other complication such as environmental pollution and also can pose a health hazard within the area of the recycling industrial zone.
This is the main reason why here at SEY we provide refills. By refilling your containers, you can help reduce waste.
Watch the Dirty Business. Amazing documentary about where our waste goes and what happens to it.
In a majority of cases, more money are spend on raw materials rather than on recycled materials as they can be cheaper. The same goes for exporting. For instance, because of the low capacity for the UK to recycle their products, it is easier to export waste to countries like China, Malaysia, Thailand.
Where does our trash go?
A lot of our trash ends up overseas, usually in different Asian countries. Over the years the UK has been sending “low-quality waste” and now those countries are finally saying no more.
China took a stand and others followed
In 2017 China imposed strict guidelines to what type of waste they will accept. In January 2018 they introduces the “the national sword policy“. This led to a decrease in the amount of waste western countries were exporting to China.
Further reading on how the policy affected the UK with this policy.
Out of sight out of mind
We assume that our waste is being recycled. That is why we need to start focusing on reusing rather than simply recycling. Developed countries are finding it easier to just dump their waste in less economically developing nations. We need a better system to tackle the problem of a flaw recycling scheme.
Check out this great mini documentary about electronic recycling. It gives a good idea of how some people abuse the system.
In the UK there is a PRN system. That means package recovery note. It provides proof of what and how many products has been recycled. The UK, for instance, has a target percentage of the amount of waste that needs to be recycled. According to the EU, the percentage is 55% and according to the stats the UK is recycling 66%. Unfortunately, this is misleading.
The problem with the PRN system are:
1. It gives a false statement of the actual amount of materials being recycled because a large amount of waste is being exported
2. It doesn’t show where the packages are going and what happens to the tonnes of plastic scrap
3. Countries accepting materials to be recycled are getting containers of mix trash that they cannot use.
Other challenges in plastic recycling
Another common problem within the recycling system, one that is not well studied are cross-contamination, presence of additives, non-polymer impurities and degradation. All of these factors reduce the quality and benefit of recycled end products.
That is why reusing, repurposing, upcycling are better options than recycling. These simple options can help reduce the number of new products being manufactured.
What can we do as consumers?
We need to start rethinking about what we buy. Stop following trends blindly. A lot of the packages, even though it might be plastic base are strong enough to be reuse 10 folds. Instead of just throwing our empty containers away, let's reuse them, give them another purpose.
Invest in small businesses that focus on repurposing or upcycling materials to develop new products. Not because a company is massive, and has a “what we think” is a good reputation that, they are better than smaller businesses.
check within your local areas. Local markets, craft fairs, you usually will find an amazing small business that its aim is to reduce waste and provide you with high-quality products. By doing so we can reduce the problem within the recycling system.
We can do this together.