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When recycling goes bad

We all love the idea of recycling, right? Nothing fills out hearts more with smug joy than to pop that piece of cardboard into the recycling bin. And when we purchase something that is recycled, we are sure that we are creating a minimum impact on the environment, it almost feels like we are doing the world a favour, but are we?

The issue of recycling is a complex one. There are many angles that need to be taken into consideration. It is sold to us as a neat guilt-free package, but it is anything but that.

Recycling can hurt the environment mostly because of the mindset it gives us. The idea that our irresponsible consumption will be expunged if we just recycle. But, like anything, it’s a process. When you recycle an item, it just doesn’t disappear. For all the campaigns encouraging people to recycle more, few explain exactly what happens to our recyclables once they go into the blue bin. Our water bottles don't magically reincarnate into toys or fabrics on their own, recyclables are often shipped cheaply to China or India, where they could be sold and given new shape, however sometimes they are shipped overseas only to become landfill. There is a large carbon footprint that the recycled item leaves on the environment as it journeys from one country to another, it goes through a sorting process and a washing process, often using a considerable amount of water.

Unfortunately, recycling isn’t a one-stop-shop to wash away your sins. It doesn’t disqualify that waste is still… waste. What recycling programs should be teaching us is how to reduce consumption across the board instead of encouraging us to minimise our negative impact in a vicious cycle. 

In its modern-day incarnation, recycling has unintentionally thrown a "hall pass" to large corporations. If you are shopping for disposable razors, you be more inclined to purchase the product that calls itself “Eco-Friendly” or that uses “Recycled materials”? Probably, because then it minimises your guilt. 

"Year after year, reports come out that brag about rising recycling rates, but neglect to mention the soaring consumption levels that go along with them." 

It is estimated that around 7 percent of plastic bags are never recycled. Under one percent of polystyrene containers are recycled, and even well-established recyclables like a soft-drink container end up in the trash more than sixty percent of the time.

Emissions are another complex issue. Some materials – newspaper, cardboard, lumber – the greenhouse gas emissions are actually greater than they would be if the waste was just reduced. So the act of recycling can be just as harmful or more harmful to the environment, creating a cumulative carbon footprint.

So what do we do?

Be a conscious consumer. The more aware we are about the issues that surround recycling, the more educated our choices will become. Putting our heads in the sand to avoid uncomfortable issues, or to avoid some additional work, no longer cuts it. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. It’s turning a blind eye to our planet and hoping that someone else will pick up the slack. If we all do that, we will all soon be presented with a problem that cannot be re-wound. These are the unfortunate truths of the current recycling system. Lets not see recycling as being the magical answer to everything, but rather a last resort for the products that we cannot help but consume. Let's all put our energy into helping to cleanupTrying to reduce. Trying to reuse. And then finally, recycle.

 

Information sources:
https://fitppl.com/how-recycling-can-be-bad-for-the-environment/
https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/how-sustainable-is-recycled-polyester/2018111540000
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/5-recycling-myths-busted-plastic/
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