In the UK, we generate enough rubbish in eight months to fill Britain’s largest lake, Lake Windermere. Or to put it another way, enough to fill London’s Albert Hall in just two hours! That’s a lot of rubbish, and sending it to landfill is bad for the environment for many reasons.
Let’s imagine a plastic bottle is thrown in the bin. Here’s what happens:
What’s the alternative? Recycling, of course.
Recycling is the process of turning waste and used items into new, useful materials or products. This not only gives the old items a new lease of life, it also reduces the amount of raw material used to make new things from scratch.
Recycling conserves natural resources, saves energy, protects the environment, reduces landfill and creates jobs.
The less raw material we use, the less we’ll deplete the Earth’s precious (and finite) natural resources. If we can re-use old, recycled materials instead to create consumer goods and appliances, we will reduce the amount of mining and forestry taking place.
Recycling can help to preserve vital raw materials and protect natural habitats and wildlife.
Recycling uses less energy than making a new product from scratch – even when you take account of all the related costs, like transport and wages.
Mining, quarrying, logging, processing and transporting raw materials to prepare them for use in industry takes a great deal of energy.
It’s far less energy intensive to re-use old material that’s already been processed and prepared – and because recycling saves energy, it also cuts down greenhouse gas emissions.
Recycling helps to reduce air, water and land pollution. It means there’s less need for mining, quarrying and timber production, which all contribute considerably to air and water pollution, as well as destroying the landscapes where they operate.
Recycling is also helping to slow down climate change, as it helps to reduce the ‘greenhouse effect’.
There are over 1,500 landfill sites in the UK, and they produce around a quarter of the UK’s methane emissions. They are also ugly and can be a health hazard.
Recycling can reduce the need to create more landfill sites in the future.
Recycling companies employ people to collect and sort used items. Other people transport the sorted materials to the companies that can use them. Designers and scientists are employed to find new, inventive ways to use recycled materials.
Your recycled items will be taken to a sorting centre and – yes – sorted. They’ll then be sent to the places where they can be most useful.
All kinds of products are made in the UK from recycled materials:
Some left-over materials are sent abroad. Various countries (China in particular) will pay good money for recyclables like waste plastic. This is because these nations don’t have easy access to sources of raw materials; for example, they might not have any native forests or drillable oil reservoirs – yet their manufacturing industry has a need for these materials, even in a pre-used form.
Although this means our waste recycling journey is much longer, and uses more raw materials in the form of fuel for lorries or container ships, it’s still a preferable option for the good of the environment than if we used virgin, raw materials because:
Sometimes it may feel as though recycling your household waste is just a drop in the ocean when you compare it with the damage caused by industry worldwide.
And yes, of course big companies create horrendous amounts of waste and pollution, but if every household recycles it really does make a difference. Recycling in the UK saves more than 18 million tonnes of CO2 each year – that’s equal to the amount we’d save if we took 5 million cars off our roads. And the consequences of not recycling at all are too horrible to contemplate – a world of festering landfill sites and islands of plastic clogging our oceans.