Why Recycling Isn’t Enough

by Sarah Moyes, Social Media Volunteer




There’s no doubt that we should all be recycling as much as possible. So many things from plastic bottles to drinks cans and paper can be recycled. And of course, it’s much better to put these items in the recycling bin rather than just throwing them away. Recycling gives drinks bottles and yoghurt tubs a new lease of life, meaning we need to produce less new plastic.  With campaigns against plastic pollution making the news, more and more producers are committing to making sure their packaging is recyclable.

It’s an important step. But is that really enough?

It’s easy to forget about what happens to your waste once you throw it in the recycling bin because that’s just the first small step. From sorting to shipping to selling second hand plastic waste, there’s a lot of cost and work that goes into the recycling process. Recycling is an important step but it’s not an easy one.

Contamination can be a big problem. You might have washed out your plastic containers and put them in the correct bin, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else will too. If something hasn’t been washed out properly then it can result in everything in that bin going to the landfill rather than the recycling plant.

There’s also the problem of where all this recycled plastic goes. Often, plastic waste is shipped to China, where it is processed more cheaply. In January this year, China placed a ban on the import of millions of tonnes of plastic waste and the effect can already been seen recycling plants around the UK. Since 2012, British companies have shipped 2.7 million tons of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong. That’s two-thirds of the UK’s plastic waste exports, and now it has nowhere to go. This could be a big issue for the UK as more and more organisations and individuals turn to recycling, unless we find a different way to address this issue.

Closing the loop

Recycling is essential in making sure that the plastic we’ve already produced gets reused, rather than ending up in landfill or polluting the oceans. It reduces waste and pollution, as well as reducing the demand  for new plastics. But we must accept that for this to be a sustainable solution, we must stop introducing new plastic into the system.

Let’s focus on recycling what we’ve already got, rather than producing more plastic. Making goods out of recyclable plastic comes a clear second place – new goods need to be compostable or reuseable.  There’s enough plastic in our world to keep us going for a long time – let’s use what we’ve already produced for things more important than yoghurt pots.

What You Can Do

it’s important to keep recycling the plastic that we use. But there are lots of things that you can do to help make the change, and reduce the demand for new plastic. So here are some top tips to help you make the change.

Stop buying bottled water
Not only does it save you money, but it saves the environment to invest in a reusable bottle rather than continuing to buy plastic ones.

Avoid excess food packaging
A lot of fruit and vegetables in the UK are wrapped in single use plastic (click here for more information on our campaign), but some can be bought loose in paper bags. You can even take your own reusable bags to the shop with you.

Go paperless
Most banks offer online banking services which will reduce paper statements. You can also cancel subscriptions to mail order catalogues and look at their products online instead.

Ditch cosmetics in plastic
There are so many different options these days for plastic free cosmetics. Lush are just one company that sells shampoo bars and they even sell shower gel without the plastic bottle.

Make your own food
Instead of buying cans of soup, why not try making your own? There are lots of food which you can make yourself which will help you cut down your recycling.  

Sarah is Plastic Free Scotland’s social media volunteer

Comments 1

  1. Yes this is serious! Your doing an amazing job of highlighting this problem, I’m sharing as much as I can and encouraging my friends and family to buy plastic free but it’s hard when my local supermarket has everything packaged in plastic I now shop at fruit veg market 11 miles from my home , I go to the butcher and baker 4 miles away. How long is it going to take for supermarkets to change the way they sell produce and is the veg plastic really going to be the answer after having decided to change my shopping habits I don’t want them buy food in veg plastic, I want to see all veg plastic free , their are supermarkets is Brussels are are doing just that . My nearest bulk buy shop is 20 miles away it has limited choice the best ones are in Edinburgh that’s 1.5 hrs to drive there for me ! I think if the government banned new plastic being made we have a chance to achieve zero waste!

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