• 5 reasons why recycling isn’t the answer…

    I bought a take out coffee at the weekend. I was manning a nappy info stall at a local nearly new sale, and had had the foresight to take my reusable coffee cup with me. I popped across the road to the well-known coffee outlet and ordered my coffee and handed over my cup. Unfortunately, my cup didn’t fit underneath their machine, so I watched in astonishment as the barista picked up a disposable cup to dispense my coffee and pour it into my reusable cup. I expressed my displeasure – why could she not have used one of their pot cups and put it in the washer? “Oh!” she said, “it’s OK, we recycle the paper cups!”

    This attitude seems all pervasive. It seems that we don’t have to worry about what waste we produce because “oh well, it will be recycled.” People are even looking at ways to recycle disposable nappies as a way to remove the impetus to use cloth.

    No. Recycling is at best third on the waste reduction pyramid. It comes after REDUCE and REUSE (but others would argue REPAIR and REPURPOSE need to go in there too). Here’s why:

    1. Recycling still uses huge amounts of energy and water. Admittedly, depending on what you are recycling, between 45% and 75% less energy then creating the product new, but still huge amounts of energy;
    2. Recycling doesn’t produce like for like quality. Whilst aluminium can be melted down and just made into more pop cans, most raw materials are acutally down cycled rather than recycled. Recycled glass tends to be slightly coloured and recycled plastic is at best discoloured and at worst is downcycled into something else such as infill for roads or “eco bricks”
    3. Recycling is cost inefficient and largely subsidised by local government (source Popular Mechanics );
    4. We do not have the capacity to deal with the amount of recycling we generate in this country and much is shipped overseas to countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and Poland which is a climate change problem (source The Guardian )
    5. Much of the waste we think we are recycling, may actually ending up in landfill either here or overseas. Recyclable waste that is dirty (or “contaminated”) cannot be recycled, so is diverted to land fill.

    Now, obviously, I’m not telling you not to recycle. But don’t think of it as your first port of call when choosing whether something is good for the environment. Think first REDUCE (do I need it, do I already have something else that will do the job, can I borrow it?) then think REUSE (take a refillable bottle or coffee cup, reuse a carrier, use a cloth nappy, cloth san-pro) then, and only then, think can I recycle it.

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