We all know that recycling plays a role in living a zero waste lifestyle. But it is something that is often misunderstood. There are a number of misconceptions in this arena, and it can occasionally be difficult to separate the myth from the fact. In this article, we'll delve a little deeper, to try to separate the fact from the fiction, to help you work out what you need to do.
When I Put My Recycling Out For Kerbside Recycling It is Always Recycled – Myth
When you put your recycling out on the kerb, or take it to a local recycling centre, you may imagine that it will all automatically be recycled. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is an unfortunate fact that there is very little transparency, and it can be difficult for consumers to find out what really happens with their waste.
The simple fact of the matter is that how much of the recycling collected by consumers actually ends up being recycled varied considerably depending on where you live. A lot of consumer sorted trash actually still ends up being sent to landfill, or is incinerated.
There are a number of things that will determine where recycling that is collected actually ends up. For example, there are the economic considerations, and the preferences of a local authority. Economic considerations often sadly mean that it is not financially viable for authorities to recycle all different sorts of waste. This means that lower grade plastics (even those that can be recycled) are not always recycled by authorities. Sometimes, plastics and other waste are sent abroad for processing, which makes it difficult to track what really happens to them.
This is one of the reasons why recycling alone is not enough. Before recycling, we should always look at refusing, reducing, reusing, and repairing if we want to live in a truly eco-friendly and sustainable way.
Recycling Cuts Your Carbon Footprint – Not Always a Fact
Of course recycling whatever you can is one step in the right direction. But it is important not to become complacent. You must not think that just because you sort your recycling, that you do not need to take any other steps.
Recycling is complex, and it will not, on its own, always automatically reduce your carbon footprint. Depending on what exactly is being recycled, the process can still be a surprisingly energy intensive one. And when fossil fuels rather than renewable energy are used, there are still carbon emissions involved.
This is why the other steps of a zero waste lifestyle are also extremely important. Not welcoming waste into our homes at all is always better than recycling it when it does arrive.
I Have To Wash Items For Recycling – Fact
You might be wondering whether you really need to bother to wash out and clean all your containers and packaging before you recycle them. The truth is that you most definitely do. Taking that little extra effort might seem like a chore at times. But it is definitely worth it. Dirty and contaminated items often cannot be recycled at all. So if you don't clean your recycling, it could contaminate a load and reduce recycling rates in your area.
But you can always reuse and give your packaging a new purpose! Simply clean and remove the label, they can help you manage a lot of kitchen stuff. Here is a tutorial on how to remove glass jars label.
The Color of Plastic Determines Whether it Can Be Recycled – Fact
You might be surprised to learn that some colors of plastic are worse than others. Black plastic, for example, usually cannot be recycled at all (it cannot be recognised by recycling machines). So this is something to bear in mind when you are doing your shopping. As well as looking at what type of plastic packaging is made from, and whether or not that type of plastic can be recycled, you should also look at avoiding dark plastics that cannot usually be recycled through municipal schemes.
Plastic Can Be Recycled Over and Over Again – Usually a Myth
Most plastics are recycled mechanically. Unfortunately, even where they are recycled, most plastics can only be recycled mechanically once or twice before they are down-cycled. This means they are recycled into something of a lesser value. Those things are then themselves often not recyclable at the end of their useful lives. This often means that recycling does not prevent plastic waste from ending up in landfill or being incinerated – it only delays it.
Chemical recycling involves breaking plastic polymers down into their crude components. This, in theory, means that certain plastics can be recycled endlessly rather than being downgraded. State-of-the-art on techniques such as chemolysis, pyrolysis, fluid catalytic cracking, hydrogen techniques and gasification can all be utilized to break down plastics to make fuels for reuse.
But chemical recycling does not necessarily bring environmental benefits. Though chemical processes are more tolerant of contamination, and they yield polymers that are identical to the originals, eliminating downcycling, they can often be polluting, and result in higher greenhouse gas emissions. How environmentally friendly the process will be very much depends on the exact processes used, how energy efficient they are, and what type of energy is used.
Though chemical recycling can in theory mean endless recycling loops – the practical application of this is not yet in widespread use. So usually, plastic cannot be recycled again and again (at least not at present, and not yet without environmental harm).
All of these points are another reasons for us to completely avoid plastic and make a switch to reusables.
To really tackle the plastic waste issue, we need to look beyond recycling alone. We need to find ways to break our reliance on the product once and for all. And when it comes to plastic waste, and all other forms of waste, we need to do what we can as individuals to eliminate waste altogether.