These days we’re pretty familiar with the concept of recycling. Most of us are aware of which items are destined for the recycling bin and which are not.
But is recycling really all it’s cracked up to be? Are there less energy-heavy ways of reusing our plastic bottles and polystyrene packaging? And what do we do with all the leftover items that can’t be recycled?
There are some alternatives which don’t involve sending plastic wraps to landfill and bottle tops to the incinerator after one use. Let’s take a look at recycling, the alternatives, and when to use each method to reduce our waste at home.
Why Is It so Important to Reduce Our Waste Anyway?
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see plastic bottles littering the streets or bags blocking the gutters. Hardly an hour if I’m walking around a busy city. Many of us walk on by, oblivious. Someone else will clean it up, right?
But the problem is that ‘cleaning up’ really just means moving the rubbish to where we can’t see it. When the rubbish and recycling disappears from our bins in the early hours of the morning, it’s not disappearing from our planet.
Plastic bottles could take around 4,000 years to decompose. So they’re put underground and out of sight for millennia. Meanwhile, vast amounts of plastic end up in our ocean where fish mistake it for food. The items which don’t go to landfill are incinerated. This is a process which releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Waste disposal isn’t the only issue. To produce single-use items, raw materials must be mined, cut, or quarried. These are by no means cheap operations when it comes to money or energy consumption. Not to mention the ugly scars they leave on the landscape.
Recycling – The Last of the Three R’s
Recycling has become a standard household practice in most Western countries. It’s not dictated by UK law, but the majority of plastic manufacturers now label their recyclable products.
Recycling is a viable way of reducing waste and preserving natural resources. Aluminium cans, glass bottles, and paper can be recycled many times. The three R’s list out Reduce, Reuse, Recycle so recycling is not the ultimate solution, it should be thought of as a backup plan. The process of transforming an old item into something new still consumes a lot of energy. And recycling plants contribute to the pollution problem.
Also, due to sorting systems, recyclable black plastic often ends up in landfill. So even when you’ve separated your recyclables from your non-recyclables, they may well end up in the same pile again.
So what other options are there?
Refuse the Bin, and Reuse
Reusing means finding a way to use the same item more than once before putting in the bin. Such as using a plastic bag in your kitchen bin or taking it with you the next time you do your shopping. Why anyone is still paying 5p for a shopping bag is a mystery.
Investing in products which can be used many times is also great for reusing. A reusable water bottle, for example, or a portable coffee cup. Not only does this reduce the amount of waste you’re producing, it can also save you money in the long term.
If you’re unable to reuse an item yourself, there’s still life in the old stuff yet. Perhaps your kids have outgrown their clothes? Or you’ve got more empty ice cream tubs than you know what to do with? Get in touch with your closest ScrapStore or charity shop to make a donation. Organisations such as ScrapStore take your ‘trash’ and use it for community-based projects.
Upcycling – the Trend That Keeps on Giving
Upcycling is the process of refashioning something old or broken into something new and functional. Turning an old door into a rustic dining table is a fine example of upcycling.
Upcycling is now considered new and trendy. But it was once standard before the Western world was taken over with its ‘if it’s broken buy a new one’ attitude. Upcycling is no longer just ‘making do’. It’s as popular with eco-friendly architects and designers as it is with creative families.
The best thing about upcycling is that almost anything can be upcycled. And often from the comfort of your own home. A pair of jeans or a skirt can be converted into a shopping bag. A biodegradable plant pot can be made out of old newspapers. Yoghurt pots make great containers for seedlings and egg boxes can be used in many kids crafts. Clear plastic food containers can become the ‘glass’ for a homemade picture frame. Glass jars and bottles have almost endless upcycling possibilities from drinking glasses, to lanterns, to food storage.
Giving things a whole new lease of life and making gifts from pre-loved stuff can be SO satisfying!
Becoming a Zero Waste Hero
Zero waste eradicates the need for landfill and recycling plants by ditching single-use items and only using reusable items. It may sound impossible when most products in the supermarket are wrapped in plastic. But zero waste food stores are popping up all over the country. Eco bathroom brand Lush have ‘naked’ soaps. Tea and coffee shop Whittards have ‘bring your own’ container initiatives. So ditching plastic is becoming easier.
Even if it’s not possible for you to go completely zero waste there are plenty of plastic swaps that you can make without making drastic changes to your daily routine.
Pick individual fruits and vegetables instead of buying plastic wrapped versions. Try soap or shampoo bars and a bamboo face cloth instead of bottled toiletries. Switch from disposable tissues to an upcycled handkerchief. It all helps!
When to Recycle, Reuse or Upcycle?
An ideal world would be completely free of plastic and single-use products. But in reality, we’re unlikely to ever see an entirely zero waste society. Recycling, reusing and upcycling are all useful for reducing waste and each method has its benefits.
Upcycling and reusing should generally be your first port of call. At some point, you’ll probably run out of ideas or space to store all your creations which is when you should consider donating your ‘trash’ to a local project. And when an item can no longer be reused it should be recycled instead of being thrown away.
And remember, every little change you make for the better, makes a difference.