Recycling is defined as the act of processing used or old materials as a means of creating new ones, this not only reduces the consumption of fresh materials which in turn conserves natural resources and protects natural habitats for the future but also reduces energy usage.
The energy that is required to make new products from recycled materials is significantly less than if they were manufactured using fresh raw materials.
Recycling also helps the environment as it reduces the amount of extraction that needs to take place, this includes logging, quarrying and mining, as well as processing and refining procedures that have to be carried out on materials in order to make them ‘industry ready’.
Air and water pollution
All of these processes create considerable amounts of air and water pollution as well as having a harmful effect on natural habitats. In contrast recycled materials have already been through this process reducing the energy consumption and the negative effect on the environment.
Recycling can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been proven to contribute to global warming. By reducing carbon emissions, the aim is that the effects of global warming and climate change can be reduced or slowed down. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of many processes manufacturers conduct. For example, transportation, production in factories and machines (such as washing machines) which consume electricity all produce carbox dioxide as a by-product. By reducing the intensity and rate at which these processes are carried out, government’s believe
- Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that has many negative effects on the environment. By recycling, the quantities of many materials that produced this gas in land fill sites are significantly reduced, as is the sheer amount of waste dumped in one of the 1,500 land fill sites across the UK .
For example, by reusing carrier bags, the idea is that less will eventually have to be produced. This in turn means less production and less transportation. This would mean less carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere; hence reducing the carbon footprint.
What happens to our recycling?
There are many recycling plants in the UK , reprocessing millions of tonnes of old matter every year. Materials are collected in a variety of ways such as kerb side collections and co-mingled collections where all recyclable material is collected in one lorry which requires sorting at a Materials Recovery Facility.
Here in the United Kingdom, all of the manufactured newsprint is made from 100% recycled paper and over 80% of the glass that is collected at recycling points is re-used often to make new bottles.
There are countries around the world that are willing to pay high prices for recyclable materials, in particular plastic. This includes primarily countries like China who don’t have the raw materials readily available to make products, including plastic bags. This at first would seem to defeat the object of recycling, however upon further investigation the recycling process that has to take place requires less energy and causes less environmental damage than making the products from fresh, virgin materials.
Even taking into account the transport from Britain the carbon emissions are still lower than starting from scratch. This is due to the fact that the container ships take the materials back on their return journey after being used to bring goods to the UK .
According to information reported by the Environment Agency for Dafta, the percentages of materials reprocessed in the UK as opposed to materials exported for recycling are as follows;
|Material||Reprocessed in the UK (%)||Reprocessed Abroad (%)|
Is it worth it?
In 2008, there was reportedly 8.7 million tonnes of UK household waste recycled; this is equivalent to saving the carbon emission produced by nearly a million flights between Sydney and London .
Statistics report that 95% of the materials put out for recycling in the UK last year were successfully reprocessed.
On average it costs £45 to put a tonne of waste in a land fill site. Recycling cost is considerably less, so not only is reprocessing material reducing the amount of space taken up by waste that is unlikely to degrade for hundreds of years, it is also saving taxpayer money.
The UK currently recycles approximately 50% of the glass used, including bottles from drinks and jars. Though this figure has more than doubled in the last five years, the UK is still trailing behind other European countries such as Finland and Switzerland who manage to reuse around 90% of their glass waste.
Glass is collected either from the kerb side or from various recycling points across the United Kingdom . The glass gets collected and taken to be reprocessed, once there, the glass is thoroughly cleaned and crushed. It is then combined with raw materials and heated up and melted in a furnace, this material is then blown or shaped into new jars and bottles ready to be used again.
It has been reported that recycling two glass bottles provides the equivalent energy needed to boil enough water for five cups of tea.
There are various business sectors in the UK that should be doing a lot more recycling in particular in bars, pubs and restaurants who are currently disposing of around 600,000 tonnes of glass waste every year, all of which is taking up unnecessary space in land fill sites.
Supply vs Demand
Despite the ease of reprocessing glass in the UK , there is currently a disproportion between the outsized supply of Glass for recycling and the requirement of recycled glass to be used in the manufacturing of new products. The prices that are paid for glass varies depending on whether it is mixed or sorted (more money can be made from separated colours, which is why there are separate containers at recycling points).
There is a large demand, coming from around the world, for clear glass to be used to make spirit bottles. This leaves gaps in our supply chain in the UK . In contrast to this, the UK imports a large amount of green glass which gets recycled in large quantities; therefore around 85% of the green bottles manufactured in the UK are made from reprocessed glass.
Any excess green glass is exported for use as a number of things including fibreglass insulation and new green bottles. Green glass is also used in the manufacturing of bricks and is often used as filtration substances in effluent treatment works.
Supermarket recycling schemes
Many supermarkets have adapted to using the plastic bag as a means of demonstrating their green credentials and commitment to the environment.
Last year supermarkets and high-street chains successfully put off a government ban of free plastic bags by handing out 3.5 billion less carrier bags than in 2007. That is a 26% drop from 13.4 billion used in 2007 to 9.9 billion last year. In addition to this the plastic bags that are still being supplied are now manufactured using around 40% less plastic which has been replaced with recyclable materials. This is in line with the agreement made in February 2007 by 21 leading supermarkets and high street chains in which they vowed to reduce bag waste by 25%.
Marks and Spencer are possibly now considered the most environmentally friendly supermarket having reduced their plastic bag output by 75% primarily as a result of charging 5p per carrier bag from May 2008. The money raised by these charges has also provided valuable funds for the charity ‘Groundwork’ dedicated to creating sustainable and environmentally friendly communities.
Other major supermarkets have followed their lead, including Tesco who are currently giving out loyalty points to customers who have re-used their bags helping to reduce the number handed out by around 2 billion.
And Sainsbury’s claim to have moved their free plastic bags form the packaging areas so their customers have to request them, however it is often the case that bags are still readily available for use in many of their stores.
Other moves by campaigners and environmental agencies are urging supermarkets to reduce the amount of packaging that is used in both shipping and on the products that can be purchased. Campaigners are arguing that the amount of wasted materials is far too high and needs to be reduced, some activists have suggested that the supermarkets should be liable for the recycling of their waste or personally pay the costs for putting waste in landfill sites rather than the burden being left on the tax payer. However supermarkets have rejected the allegations they are using and wasting too many materials highlighting the importance of packaging as a means of preserving products, some have reportedly blamed the consumer for wanting only perfect looking foods which require large amounts of packaging.
The UK supermarket chain Waitrose is currently trialling a pilot scheme for recycling food waste, the supermarket has chosen 5 stores to take place in the scheme which if successful will eventually go nationwide.
The process of recycling food is known as Anaerobic Digestion. The waste is heated to high temperatures at which point it produces a bio-gas rich in methane which can then be transformed into heat or electricity. Waitrose have reportedly claimed that when they put the electricity generated into the national grid the amount will be enough to supply around 500 homes with energy.
The process also provides an odourless organic fertiliser as a by-product which can be used for growing crops. It seems this is a great environmentally friendly and easy way of disposing of food waste – watch this space!