Why You are in the Pocket of Big Recycling

I don’t usually publish guest posts on my blog, but I found this one really interesting.  I have the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ (in that order) at the back of my mind, but I generally think in terms of the options available to me i.e. what I can do at home. This article got me thinking about what is going on outside of my home and how the government/ local councils seem pretty focused on recycling. 
Why You are in the Pocket of Big Recycling
Since the 1980s, recycling has been the figurehead of the
environmental movement. Politicians keen to court the green vote have
championed recycling as a kind of cure-all solution to ‘the environment’, but
in our willingness to do the right thing ecologically, have we been taken in by
‘Big Recycling’?  
In the waste reduction hierarchy, which was first introduced by
the European Union in 1975 and updated as recently as 2008, reuse is a flatly
better option than recycling, and for good reason.
Over the last few years, studies by the Waste Resource Action Programme
(WRAP) have definitively demonstrated that reusing is both more financially and
environmentally prudent than recycling.
So why does recycling continue to be viewed as the best way to
be eco-friendly?
The Big Business of
Recycling
In an article for Forbes, Amy Westervelt outlines a
number of reasons why recycling continues to dominate the environmental
movement.
She shows how attitudes to recycling have been manipulated to
encourage overconsumption despite having real inefficiencies.
In this way, we can see how recycling has become motivated by
money while potentially causing more environmental harm than good.
Recycling Encourages
Overconsumption
In her article, Amy claims recycling has: “given the
manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption
as environmentalism.”
Fundamentally the idea has been sold to people that it is okay
to consume tons of disposable items as long as they recycle them.
Recycling is Motivated
by the Economy Rather than Environmental Issues
Furthermore, she explores how recycling has become a “commodity
business”.
One example typifies this completely: a few years ago demand
for recycled paper declined which resulted in a price drop, but as a result,
recyclers warehoused a great deal of cardboard in the hope the prices would
rise.
In certain instances where storage became an issue, much of
this cardboard was eventually landfilled.
Not All Recyclable Items
Are Recycled
Items actually being recycled depends on a number of factors:
consumers must actually dispose of the items properly, a collection system must
be in place, and the recycling must be deemed to be financially justified.
Westervelt focuses on PVC and bioplastic as case studies. Both
of these are indeed recyclable but are not commonly recycled.  When PVC is recycled the resultant material
has colour problems and is therefore not marketable. Also, polylactic acid,
which is the most common bioplastic, will contaminate the recycling stream and
there isn’t enough of it to financially justify recycling it separately. As a
result, it is disposed of as waste.
Some Recyclable
Materials Cause Harmful Emissions When Recycled
While recycling some materials undoubtedly lowers greenhouse
gas emissions, there are others which emit dangerous particles during the
recycling process.
In the Forbes article, Westervelt focuses on the
environmentally damaging recyclers of glass, plastic and metal. In particular
she cited Oakland, USA, where recyclers were named among the city’s top
polluters.
Reuse as an Alternative
What is Reuse?
Reuse means passing on an item to be used again in its current
form only if it is still in working order or can be restored to working order.
Manufacturing new products, even recycling old products, is a
massive drain on the planet’s limited resources and pollutes our environment.
Combined with this is the financial expense of disposing waste
in landfills, recycling items, and making new items. Reuse is by far and away
the most environmentally and economically friendly solution.
Stigma of Reuse
For many, while reuse is on the rise due to austerity, there
remains a distinct stigma associated with reusing second hand items as Jane
Stephenson, chief executive of Resource Future, asserts in an article in MRW Magazine.
Reuse and the Circular
Economy
According to WRAP, a circular economy is: an alternative to
a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in
use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use,
then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service
life.
Rufus Hirsch from clearance company Clearance Solutions, frequently deals with
clients that need full-scale home removals. “The kind of items that we clear
ranges from living room furniture to a kitchen sink” he says, “but thanks to
our networks like London Community Resource Network, we can find a new home for
almost anything.”
The LondonCommunity Resource Network is responsible for the London Re-use Network
which collects and repairs unwanted or broken furniture, appliances and household
items. The repaired items are then either sold or donated to community groups,
schools and homes. 
Environmental Benefits
of Reuse
In 2009, WRAP published Meeting the UK Climate Challenge: The
Contribution of Resource Efficiency. This found that increasing reuse could
reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by an average 4 million tonnes CO2 eq per
year between 2009 and 2020.
In 2011, WRAP published Benefits of Reuse Case Study: Office
Furniture which found that around 200,000 desks are reused in the UK every
year. This is approximately 14% of desks that reach the end of their life cycle
each year.
In this example, the practice of reusing avoided 3,600 tonnes
CO2-eq that year.
Economic Benefits of
Reuse
In a Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) study published in
2011, it was found that only 14% of office desks and chairs that reach the end
of their life cycle in the UK each year are reused. The rest go to landfills,
energy recovery and recycling plants.
A large amount of these items could be reused. If these
reusable desks were, in fact, reused and not dumped or recycled, both the
financial benefits to businesses and the environmental benefits would be
enormous.
  
Financial Benefits of
Reusing for Business
Businesses that reuse as much as possible will have to make
fewer waste disposal trips. They will also have less need for raw materials. In
the long run, small changes could help to save a substantial amount of money.
Depending on the business, money can be saved through reusing:
refillable toner and ink cartridges, wasted printer paper, durable utensils,
crockery and tableware (as opposed to disposable styrofoam and plastic
equivalents).
Even if these options aren’t available, similar cost-effective
results can be achieved with the resource saving Industrial Symbiosis plan.
In this practice, businesses can create collaborative networks
where waste is moved free of charge. It works on the premise that the waste of
one business is a fundamental aspect of another.
Reuse Encourages Job
Creation and Opportunities
In a report from Friends of the Earth called “More jobs, less
waste”, favourable statistics suggested that turning waste into a commodity can
help the environment and encourage new business plans and job opportunities.
Indeed, if a 70% recycling rate were achieved by 2025 in the
UK, nearly 19,000 additional jobs would be created as a result. And most of
these additional jobs would be in the reuse and remanufacturing sectors.
If more businesses made strong efforts to reuse rather than
recycle, we could witness the rise of a new form of industry based on the
utilisation of waste resources for other purposes.
In a recent example of this kind of collaborative enterprise,
the waste heat produced by a glass manufacturing plant was used to stimulate
food production in a greenhouse. This agreement not only saved vast CO2 emissions, it also saved a lot
of money for both companies.
The bottom line on
recycling and reuse
While they’re both better options than discarding, recycling
seems to have taken centre-stage over its more environmentally friendly
counterpart: reusing.
The increased awareness of our responsibility for the
environment has been influenced in part by councils insisting on separate
collections for different kinds of waste. For example, in Thurrock recycling
bags will not be collected if certain types have been mixed.

With this kind of public push that associates the idea of recycling with
helping the environment, the feeling of contributing to a worthy cause can
become blinding in everyday aspects of life.

Instead of promoting a focus on using sustainable materials
that can be reused again and again, we’re still facing products with far too
much unnecessary packaging and being encouraged to think that it’s okay because
we know how to recycle the plastic.
Buying coffee in a cardboard cup that proudly announces its
100% compostable and recycled history should not be worthy of a well deserved
slap on the back. Especially not when the recycling plants that make such
drinking containers are actually responsible for C02 emissions that rival
industrial power plants. 
Reuse doesn’t always come with the satisfaction of posting
items into clearly delineated bin slots or bags because it requires a little
bit more effort. But that effort can prevent resources from needlessly entering
the waste stream when they could be put to good use.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored guest post

One thought on “Why You are in the Pocket of Big Recycling

  • Hi Zoe,

    For a sponsored post that was pretty spot on the mark wasn't it?! And I can see why you were more than happy to post it. I always try to reuse things where possible, but could definitely improve on how I use consumable items (kitchen roll is an obvious one). I need to look into making some clothes like you did recently 😉

    Thanks!

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