Have you noticed how easy it is to recycle these days? Packaging telling you what you can or can’t recycle, even how to break down some items so they can be recycled. Public recycling bins on the high street telling you what rubbish goes where. Councils are providing extensive lists of what they can collect at the kerbside. More priority is placed on your recycling bin which is normally collected as often as your household waste, or more frequently in some areas. But is recycling the answer?
This massive push to getting people to recycle has led many to believe that they are resolving most of their eco-problems and their eco-friendly journey is complete. However, if you genuinely want to be savvy in reducing your environmental impact, recycling is only one step on a tall ladder.[ad]
Is recycling the answer? Introducing the waste hierarchy
There has been so much pressure to recycle as much as you can because ultimately, it’s better than throwing something in the bin. Recycling allows us to retain value in items such as plastic, aluminium and paper. In fact, it is estimated that in the UK, 18 million carbon emissions are saved every year by recycling.
Many of us are firmly on board with recycling, we know our stuff, and we actively recycle to reduce our impact. But now it’s time to move up the waste hierarchy.
In this scale, you can see that recycling is quite low down. But if recycling is such a saviour, why is it not higher up? The thing with recycling is that it still creates a demand for items that don’t benefit our planet.
Even though we can recycle plastic and use recycled plastic in products, virgin plastic is still being produced. Which means brand new shiny plastic that has drawn on finite resources from the planet is still required; albeit at a slower rate than previous years when we weren’t using recycled items at all.
So if recycling isn’t the answer – what is?
You can see that repair, reuse and reduce are all above recycling in the table. The next phase of creating a sustainable living is to embrace these levels as much as we have embraced recycling.
How to repair or reuse items
The next levels up from recycling are fairly straight forward. Instead of popping things in any bin, you keep them in your possession but reframe their purpose. It doesn’t mean that you have to reuse items the same way each time – after all, there’s only so many times you can reuse an egg carton for eggs!
Simple techniques like transforming plastic bottles into slow feeders for your houseplants are just one step. You can get creative with your cardboard boxes and create that much-needed storage in your home! There are many ways to reuse items over and over again; all you have to do is decide what thing you’re going to reuse and search for some ideas. Remember we’re all learning from one another, so if you have any good suggestions, be sure to pop them in the comment section below!
Repairing items is a little more straightforward and requires less thinking. Most of the time, a professional will be able to help. Whether that is a seamstress to help fix a busted zip on a coat or a tech genius to help get your old laptop working again after you spilt a drink on it.
How to reduce items
This is where the real power comes in. Reducing your consumption is the greenest action you can take. It’s simple, really. The less we (as a nation) demand something, the less we draw on the earth’s resources to make them. It’s why the best purchase you can make to save the planet, is not making one at all.
Reducing your consumption doesn’t mean cutting out items you love – this isn’t a fad diet where you must ban all the chocolate from your life! But it does mean being more mindful about the purchases you do make. You can reduce your plastic purchases by shopping at refill shops and taking reusable jars to store foods like pasta and rice. It’s about taking the time to plan ahead so that you avoid unnecessary waste. Like any good journey, having it mapped out makes it much easier to get to the destination![ad]
Climbing the waste hierarchy isn’t a quick or simple task. It’s taken years for many of us to get to grips with recycling, and sadly people are still recycling the wrong items in their local area. Now is the time to take the next step, not go sprinting down the track only to fall over at every hurdle. Small changes in your life will make a difference. Start today by taking a look at what you recycle throughout the week and ask yourself – “Is there a way in which I can reuse/repair or even reduce my consumption of this item?” What popular item in your home will you tackle first?