Why recycling isn't the answer
The technology behind recycling has seen huge advancements in recent years, with curbside recycling schemes now collecting a wide variety of plastics (as well as that tricky Tetrapak!) in some areas. However, while this might be a better option than landfill, the recycling process comes at a huge environmental cost.
Where recycling does work
It still takes much less energy to produce something from recycled materials, than it does to extract and process virgin materials for the same end product. However, it depends what those recycled materials are used for. If used to produce other single use items found in supermarkets to package food, then it’s worth remembering that plastic can only be recycled about seven times before the quality is so poor it becomes unusable.
Recycled materials are a solid choice for reusables though, as well as items designed for permanent to semi-permanent use. The rCup is a shining example of this, taking single use coffee cups and recycling them into a lasting product.
Kind bags is a wonderful circular-economy, social enterprise that not only makes their stunning shopping bags from 100% recycled plastic, but donates a percentage of sales to charity as well.
Breaking a habit
Recycling single-use items only goes a small way towards tackling our global plastic problems. The fact the tub from a spreadable butter can be recycled still draws a demand for a single-use item, regardless of whether it’s made from recycled materials or not.
A shift in consumer habits is needed, with attention taken away from convenience products and a focus placed on a bare-basics approach to ingredients and general food shopping. It's happening with 'bulk buy' shops increasingly popping up. How this will play out is yet to be seen. Some argue that the necessary shift in habit could be achieved by presenting the savings that can be passed onto the consumer when packaging, marketing and branding are not built into the base price of a product. Conversely, this could strip out some of the things that create a competitive market, causing us to look even deeper into how society functions.
Where does our recycling go anyway?
There have been a lot of reports recently that show not all our recycling actually get recycled. From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s discovery of UK supermarket carrier bags being shipped to Malaysia, to America's local authorities dumping sorted recycling into landfill, the sobering truth is that we never fully know where our recycling actually ends up.
Every council and local authority should have information on your curbside recycling process from end-to-end. Check their website or ask them about it!
Care and repair
From clothing and bikes, to furniture and washing machines, repair work is integral to looking after our things. The Restart Project in London is a social enterprise that teaches people to fix and repair electronic devices and appliances. Similarly, Repair Cafes are starting up all over the country where you can learn to fix almost anything from your bike, to your clothes.
You should not be discouraged to recycle by any means, but it’s important to remember it sits at the bottom of the ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle’ totem.