Recycling is the process of transforming waste into materials that can be reused, and it is one of the main ways that we can all help to protect the Earth. Recycling unwanted materials also reduces your own carbon footprint helping you to go green. By 2035, the UK Government has promised to reach its target of recycling 65% of all municipal waste. This is one of the many strategies the government has put into place in order to be net zero by 2050.
But why should we recycle? Will recycling protect our natural resources?
We are very close to running out of our natural resources. We are losing our forests due to deforestation to keep up with our need for wood and paper, and replanting isn’t keeping up with the amount of trees that have been already and are continuing to be cut down. It takes roughly 40 years for a newly planted tree to grow large enough to be of use. Recycling removes the need to cut any further trees down, as materials are reused.
Most of the metals used, unless stated that they are already recycled, have been mined. Due to our increased need for metal, there are many mines that are nearing depletion of their ore reserves.
One of the biggest contributors to global warming are fossil fuels. The demand for these fuels is incredibly high and there is a continued need for them in order to produce plastic. There is also a potential for us to run out of these. If we recycled our plastic waste, we would have less need for fossil fuels and there would be less pollution from harmful hydrocarbons.
Will recycling help to lower our GHG emissions?
In 2021, the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reached 424.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt Co2e). Many of the UK’s GHGs come from households as well as from the energy, manufacturing and transport sectors. If both industrial and domestic waste is recycled instead of disposed of as waste these emissions will lower in percentage leading to the UK having a much lower input into global warming.
At just 30% capacity, recycling will remove a large amount of GHG emissions, which will be equivalent to that of 30,000 cars being taken off the road.
If we choose to recycle, the material will be used again. Recycling emits less emissions when compared to sourcing and obtaining new materials to make the same product.
Will recycling save energy?
The disposal of waste doesn’t just lead to higher emissions but also a higher loss of energy, as more energy is needed to resource the materials that we have lost to landfills or incineration. If we used recycled paper instead of cutting down trees to make new materials, we would save 40% less energy. If we recycle our steel products, such as cans, we can save up to 70% of the energy needed to mine for the iron needed to create the metal alloy we use in our everyday packaging. Aluminium is also a resource we regularly use that is mined. Aluminium when recycled and reused to make new materials is one of the highest energy saving materials, as 95% of energy is saved. If sourced naturally, aluminium is first mined as bauxite and then it has to go through several, high energy consuming processes to become the aluminium we use as kitchen foil and cans.
In regards to glass, one bottle alone when recycled saves enough energy to power a 100 watt lightbulb for roughly four hours. If you use the greener option, an LED lightbulb, this will run for longer as they use less energy.
Will recycling save money?
Due to not having to source new materials, for example, through quarrying, logging and mining, money is saved if we recycle. Due to not needing to source new materials, there is less energy needed in the form of oil and gas. Therefore, there will be a decrease in the amount of money spent on fossil fuels that need to be imported from abroad.
This will lower the dependency on oil and gas and may help the UK Government to move towards much cleaner energy.
Will recycling save our ecosystems?
Around the world, ecosystems are being destroyed and many of the animals we share the planet with are losing their habitats. This is through the deforestation of many of our most important forests such as the Amazon rainforest, as well as quarrying, mining and inappropriate waste disposal. Waterways and airways are being affected by pollution through harmful chemicals being released and waste entering these systems. This is not just industrial waste but also domestic waste.
If we choose to recycle, rather than turn our recyclable materials into waste, we are preventing these materials from reaching landfills which are expanding dangerously. We are also helping to prevent companies from further producing their own waste due to reusing what we already have and not having to go through long and wasteful processes to produce new materials. Therefore, we will lower our environmental impact and help to protect our disappearing ecosystems and their inhabitants.
Will recycling stop our communities from being displaced?
When we source natural resources for use, we don’t just damage our ecosystems for wildlife, it also damages the homes of many communities. There have been many incidences where whole communities have been displaced due to the ongoing need for resources, such as timber, as it is cheaper to remove it from these areas.
The people that are displaced are usually from poor communities that cannot afford to defend their homes and livelihoods. Making sure you recycle any material that can be recycled, puts less pressure on our environment and lowers the probability of a community being displaced. For example, if we increase the amount of paper we recycle, the need to cut down our forests will lower.
Can recycling bring us closer together and make a positive impact?
Going green and recycling has already made a massive impact on many communities, through litter picking and several different projects people are coming together to help save our planet. It is also a great way to find like-minded people and learn something new from each other.
During the pandemic many people have lost their jobs, with young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 being the biggest age group to struggle to find a job. Recycling has the potential to create many new jobs, to every seven jobs within waste disposal there are thirty jobs to carry out recycling.
Due to the UK Government’s plans to get the UK to net zero by 2050, there will be an increase in jobs linked to a greener and more sustainable world. This will not only increase the need for recycling centres but also encourage the tech sector to expand, as many companies will be looking towards creating new and greener technology, therefore creating further jobs but also helping to reduce carbon emissions and stabilise climate change.