In short, recycling is the process of turning waste into new materials or objects. Recovery of energy from waste materials is also often included in this term. The recyclability of the material depends on the ability of this material to regain its properties that it had before recycling, when it was in its original state.
Here are some of the benefits of recycling:
Conservation of natural resources
- Paper and wood recycling reduces the demand for deforestation and cuts down the carbon cost associated with paper production (more on this later in the article).
- Plastic recycling is important because plastics are usually made from hydrocarbons and fossil fuels that don’t easily decompose naturally and release a plethora of harmful byproducts into the environment. See also our article on Plastic Waste.
- Metal recycling means there is less incentive to mine new ores and metals, which is harmful to the environment and to the often mistreated and exploited workers in the mines. Read about the exploitation of workers in Uranium mines in Niger and Cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
- Glass recycling reduces the need to use and process sand for new products. It may be hard to believe, but the reserves of some types of sand are starting to decrease around the world.
Protection of animals and ecosystems
Recycling helps to reduce the need to obtain new raw materials, which in turn reduces the need to process and refine these raw materials. Recycling also reduces pollution of soil and water as waste, especially single-use plastics like bottles and packaging, from landfills is easily displaced by the wind. Think about how much waste ends up in rivers or seas thousands of kilometres from our homes, where it further damages the local environment and ecosystem.
For instance, see this excerpt from National Geographic:
While many different types of trash enter the ocean, plastics make up the majority of marine debris for two reasons. First, plastic’s durability, low cost, and malleability mean that it’s being used in more and more consumer and industrial products. Second, plastic goods do not biodegrade but instead, break down into smaller pieces.
In the ocean, the sun breaks down these plastics into tinier and tinier pieces, a process known as photodegradation. Most of this debris comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups.
Marine debris can be very harmful to marine life in the gyre. For instance, loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food. Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs.
Seals and other marine mammals are especially at risk. They can get entangled in abandoned plastic fishing nets, which are being discarded largely due to inclement weather and illegal fishing. Seals and other mammals often drown in these forgotten nets—a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing.”
Recycling: How to get started?
It is much better to recycle products you have and get the most out of them than to damage nature and someone else’s community in order to obtain new raw materials.
There are many companies that offer recycling services in Ireland such as Panda and Thorntons. These companies usually provide a number of color-coded bins for sorting recyclable substrate.
In many parts of the UK, black bins are intended for waste that cannot be composted or recycled. If these bins are near you, you can use them for all non-recyclable household waste, including food waste.
But remember, leftover food waste can be used to your advantage, see our post on Composting
Blue bins are often used for paper or cardboard:
- Plain paper
- Newspapers and magazines
- Cardboard boxes
- Junk mail
In general, red containers are used for collecting and recycling plastic products:
- Plastic bottles
- Food trays
- Yoghourt cups (without lid)
- Empty shampoo bottles and cleaning products
Often mistaken for containers for garden waste, green containers are used to collect recyclable glass such as bottles or jars.
These are intended for the recycling of textiles, such as clothes, towels, or bed linen. Textile recycling bins are usually yellow, but yours may be orange. These bins are often clearly marked; however, if you’re unsure you can always check with your bin provider.
Junk Mail: A blight upon every mailbox, but also for the environment
Junk mail is a nuisance for everyone, but did you know that all of this waste mainly burdens the environment?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that up to 60% of all junk mail ends up in landfills and is not recycled at all. This amounts to almost an incredible 500 million kilograms of waste per year. Approximately 44% of junk mail that ends up in landfills produces methane and greenhouse gases (which are up to 23 times more effective than carbon dioxide).
Junk mail’s annual carbon footprint creates 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year – equivalent to the emissions generated by heating about 13 million homes during the winterForestEthics
Be adamant about not accepting any form of junk mail; deter would be spammers by letting it be known that your household accepts posted letters only – no flyers, leaflets, booklets, pamphlets, or similar paraphernalia; take it a step further by faking mailers out with a ‘Guard Dog on Duty’ notice. However, if even after all attempts to deter a particularly determined junk mail distributor fail, simply throw the spam in your paper recycling bin. Much ado about nothing.
Recycled paper and clothes
Compared to the production of classic, non-recycled paper, recycled paper has an advantage especially in terms of effects on the environment. Most importantly, when we recycle paper, we reduce the need to cut down trees to produce new paper. Did you know that in the production of 1 ton of paper, up to 2-3 times its weight in trees is consumed? Paper production from recycled material causes a 74% reduction in air pollution and 35% less water pollution.
Second-hand clothes have an extremely positive impact on the environment as well as on society, promoting a circular economy. It reduces carbon emissions and saves a lot of resources such as water and energy. It also prevents old clothes from ending up in a landfill or incinerator. Plus, they are often much cheaper to buy than standard retail prices.
Up to 63% of Britons say they have bought second-hand clothes, but they also say that these clothes make up less than 10% of their wardrobe. It means that fast fashion still dominates the world, but it is only a matter of time before it will be necessary to recycle everything and everywhere in order to preserve precious resources.
About the Author
Sarah Gáliková is a Slovak girl with a passion for writing interesting articles and photography. She studied Economics and business, however her true affection is the english language. Sarah’s free time mostly consists of nature, great books, and a camera.
Giuseppe Gillespie is an infrequent Irish writer often forced to write about himself in the 3rd person as he is not famous enough to merit someone else doing it for him. He has informed me (who is definitely not him) that he hopes this could change in future, as well as his fondness for ending things with a preposition, notwithstanding. gillespie-writing.com