Sustainable Waste | The 3rd R: Recycling!


Recycling saves energy, reduces raw material extraction and combats climate change. The vast majority of studies have found that recycling our rubbish is better for the environment rather than incinerating or landfilling it.

It is clear that one way of managing our resources successfully for the future lies in recycling the resources and the products of those resources, again and again. Filling our life with one-shot products and packaging, like paper, cans, plastic bags, plastic trays that microwave meals come in, wine bottles and cardboard, is not sustainable. These products need to either last longer and be useable for a continued range of uses, or to be made more biodegradable in order to be recycled easier into a raw material again, which can then be reprocessed and reused.

Why recycle?

Recycling saves raw materials.
Recycling reduces the need for raw materials such as metal, or wood and so reduces our impact on the environment. The level of our consumption in the UK already has a significant impact on the environment and we’re consuming an everyday increasing quantity of raw materials.

Recycling reduces our impact on climate change.
In fact, although recycling uses energy, overall it reduces climate emissions, as recycling a material generally uses far less energy than manufacturing from virgin materials. For example, recycling paper saves three times as much energy as it is produced by burning it. Recycling plastic saves five times the energy created by burning it. The UK’s current recycling of those materials saves between 10-15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year compared to applying the current mix of landfill and incineration with energy recovery to the same materials. This is equivalent to about 10 per cent of the annual CO2 emissions from the transport sector, and equates to taking 3.5 million cars off UK roads.

Recycling costs less.
When comparing landfill, incineration and recycling, recycling has considerable economic merit.

Recycling generates cash.
After collection, recyclables are separated, transported at materials recycling facilities and sent to reprocessors such as paper mills, glass works or plastic reprocessing plants where the waste is processed for use in new products. Although it costs local authorities money to collect recycling, the materials can be sold. This money can be fed back into the waste collection budget.

Recycling creates jobs.
The process of recycling and composting, from kerbside collection to sorting and reprocessing of recyclables, creates more jobs than incineration and landfill. Studies have estimated that for every tonne recycled 5.9 jobs are created. It has also been suggested that recycling newspapers creates three times as many jobs as incinerating them.