Why Recycling is Simply Not Enough

It’s a bold statement. One that you might not want to hear. Recycling is simply not enough. It’s not enough to reverse the pollution our earth faces nor resolve the global problem of rubbish and waste management. Just last week, the Philippines returned tonnes of rubbish to Canada citing that it was falsely labelled as plastic. And many countries that were previously an out of sight out of mind haven for the west’s waste are pushing back and shutting the gates to foreign junk. 

When looking into environmental sustainability, reducing rubbish or cutting consumption – you’re almost certain to come across the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. These 3 words form the basis of environmentally conscious behaviour. However, as it comes to be: the 3 Rs are not equal in their importance. In fact, the most celebrated R – Recycle, has turned out to be the least effective in preserving the environment.

Over the years, recycling has been over-praised and overestimated for its importance. Of course, it’s extremely helpful that we’ve devised ways to break down our waste and create something new with recycled materials. But the process of recycling consumes more energy than it’s ultimately saving. Moreover, China’s recent restrictions on plastic recycling also play a major role here. Until recently, China was importing a significant portion of the world’s scrap. However, it stopped accepting any recycled plastic and unsorted scrap paper from abroad in 2018. This has meant that the process of recycling all over the world has become much more burdensome. Then there’s also the disaster that ensues when recyclable rubbish is put in the wrong bin.

All in all, there’s sufficient proof to say that recycling is not the most effective way to help the environment. It’s time to rely more on the other two Rs instead. Luckily, the timing couldn’t be perfect. In the middle of the European Sustainable Development Week (ESDW), running from 30th May – 5th June, here are eight reasons why you should reduce and reuse more in your daily life:

It’s Less Expensive

While reducing and reusing requires you to find ways to utilise what you already have, recycling demands that you buy more to make something new out of what already exists. Instead of sending off things to recycle, we can just reuse things like wrapping paper, ribbons, boxes and plastic shopping bags. It’s saving the environment, and it’s saving your wallet.

It Doesn’t Lead To “Downcycling”

When the process of recycling occurs multiple times on the same material, it will eventually be downcycled to the point that it doesn’t serve any further purpose. It will ultimately become landfill waste. Reusing and reducing doesn’t contribute to this cycle whatsoever, as it doesn’t require material to be reconstructed and get degraded in the process.

It Does Not Cause Pollution

Following the last point, while the recycling process causes a significant amount of pollution, reusing and reducing has absolutely no such bearing on the environment. Instead, items are made use of as they are without adding anything toxic to the environment. This is especially the case with items like clothes, which come at a much greater environmental expense. 

It Promotes Quality Over Quantity

Here’s the thing. When people are conscious of having to reuse and reduce, they’re not going to buy things that are easily disposable that will be thrown away a few weeks later. Instead, people are encouraged to purchase high-quality material that will prove to be durable and last them for a long time. This shift in consumer culture doesn’t just help the environment, it also helps the economy. While ethical and sustainable clothing may be more expensive, you can be assured they are produced from high quality and responsible sources by people paid a fair wage. 

It Uses Less Energy

Recycling requires a massive amount of energy. Items have to be heated, melted and then reconstituted, which is energy-intensive in itself.   

It Causes Less Contamination

Rubbish pollutes the environment regardless of whether it’s ultimately intended to be recycled. Often, it can lead to residue that will contaminate the soil as well as the sea, endangering the nature around us. In April, a pregnant sperm whale that washed up off the coast of Sardinia, Italy had 22 kilograms of plastic in its stomach. By reusing and reducing we can fight against a rising amount of this contamination.

It’s More Responsible

Many people have made it a habit to use recycling as an excuse to be negligent of their usage and consumption of products. Painstakingly washing bottles and removing labels is little benefit if you’re bringing in twice the amount into the home. Alternatively, reusing and reducing puts people in charge of the waste they create, making them much more conscious and responsible about having to deal with it.

Everybody Benefits

Everybody wins with reducing and recycling. It is not just beneficial to the environment and a way to tackle global warming, it’s equally beneficial to your wallet, conserving energy and saving money at the same time.

Bottom line:

Out of sight, out of mind comes naturally when the lid shuts on our kitchen waste, or we wheel in our empty recycling bins from the street. Just because you’ve thrown it out, does not mean you’ve been absolved of any responsibility towards the environment. As part of the European Sustainable Development Week look for ways around you to reuse and reduce more in your daily life. In the words of Vincent Van Gogh, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

– Sarah Maclean

Image: Diane Labombarbe

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