Who Really is Processing the Recyclables?
I frequently hear the words “we are good at recycling, it’s the other countries that are screwing it for the rest of the world!!!” …so there are no holes in my end of the boat!
My initial post on the broken recycling system will be expanded here.
The EU and UK have a plan to make recycling a bigger part of their commitment to reduce landfill waste.
There are also pockets of cities in the US and Canada that are going zero waste by increasing recycling. Sadly it would appear none have the ability to completely process the “recyclables” in their own land and have to ship an increasing amount of disposable / single-use rubbish outside of their land. China wants better quality recyclables from countries hence countries reporting a “ban”. Thus countries have been shipping their poor quality recyclables to other countries (like Vietnam, Indonesia, etc) who also have being found to be dumping the stuff: https://news.sky.com/story/thousands-of-tons-of-uk-plastic-dumped-across-world-11218595
Here is what Recology, the waste recovery company from San Francisco (San Francisco boasts an 80% recycle rate) says
On average in the EU, 31kg of plastic packaging waste is produced per person per year. This adds up to 15.8 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste generated in the EU in one year. Ref: EU Stats
US Stats are here Note: approx 32 million tonnes of plastic waste generated in 2017, estimated 9.5% is recycled, 15% burned and the rest to landfill. Of the 9.5% that was recycled a high percentage was being exported to China until the China ban earlier on this year: https://phys.org/news/2018-01-china-import-upends-global-recycling.html)
UK Stats are here Note: of the plastic recovered from recycling, 95% of this plastic waste was exported.
Singapore exports 100% of the 7% of plastic recovered and burns any plastic that has not been recovered (+ other items designated for landfill). Source: here
One day we will voyage into the stars into the unknown and leave all our rubbish on planet Earth….
The Sad Truth About Plastic Recycling
Zero Waste concepts needs to place a greater emphasis to improve household reduction of single-use/disposables + improve the reuse of more sustainable options (see post on BYOR) as they are already struggling to educate householders how to recycle.
However it would appear the easiest option would be to allow societies to continue to discard “stuff” and use developing countries to actually recycle the “stuff” into new products (as seen in the government stats above). The EU have stated they want to ensure all plastic is recyclable. Here’s what plastic recycling currently looks like:
For those thinking burning disposable plastic is the best method for energy recovery like Sweden and Singapore, here’s what the BBC reports regarding burning or burying plastic waste: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43120041
So we now understand recycling plastic is a poor option and the picture is no prettier with regards to waste from electrical, clothes or food.
Supporting a Circular Economy
If we are to continue our consumerism and our disposable lifestyle is to be supported, perhaps the sustainable model would be for companies to use 100% recycled materials in their packaging + if made well enough, customers can return that packaging and be rewarded with some type of credit towards their next purchase to increase the return rate…… Win for the customer who gets to keep their convenience, win for the environment, win for the supermarket because they maintain a customer relationship and potentially win for the supplier with lower packaging production costs. Here is my crude drawing for what supermarkets can do with regards to reducing packaging:
To show a simple proof of concept, Norway have had a bottle/can return scheme since 1999 and in 2006 the return rate for beverage containers was:
- Metal cans: 92%
- PET bottles: 82%
Of course the best would be for the customer/shopper to BYOR – bring their own containers / bags to pick up goods and zero waste shops will become more prevalent in all areas.
Too much effort? London is implementing a refill scheme across the capital, assuming BYOR of certain items (bottle/cup) will be a habit, like taking your keys & wallet before you leave the house. Here’s a link to the refill app.
Finally, here’s a 2015 BBC article on the consumption rate if we lived like…
UK is 32nd on the list with 2.4 earths.
*GFN = Global Footprint Network: https://www.footprintnetwork.org/resources/footprint-calculator/
Day 31: Do Something About Reducing Rubbish
We may not completely understand Global Warming but we can at least reduce the rubbish we generate which will in turn reduce resources used and thus green house gases (my simple head says). This calls for some ocean music whilst you read….
If you are motivated to do something in your own environment, town, organisation then let’s go to….
Level 4: Create Plastic Free / Zero Waste in your Own Organisation / Environment
Now that you’ve been on your plastic free diet, how about asking your organisation or your local shops to remove single-use / disposable plastic and maybe you can redirect them further to think zero waste. Hope the previous posts have provided enough alternatives. Here are some more:
- Have donated my excess mugs & cutlery to companies to use in their kitchen where disposable cups were readily available.
- Have got a couple of shops to accept my excess reusable bags so they can use it with customers
- Have asked some take aways to accept my own containers (plus they are providing a token discount)
- Have asked my local council to be a zero waste town and lead the nation. My local council have said “It’s not in the Local Planning Policy Framework”!….am still knocking.
Bake your own race snacks
And to end the day, bake your own race snacks. I create protein dough balls using a protein flour (anyone tried cricket flour?), coconut oil + seeds + cacao bits.
With that happy food thought – the 31 day challenge for Plastic Free July has now been completed….Back to pulling tyres in marathons and to encourage organisations to aim towards a zero waste event.