What more can I do after Recycling?
The good news is that most people already recycle their waste so, for example, around 27 million tonnes of glass are recycled worldwide each year: Each tonne recycled saves 315kg of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. We’re learning the importance of preserving the resources we have. But did you know that there are other steps we could take that could be even better for the planet?
Recycling (1) takes the original item that you had, breaks it down into the raw material and then re-forms it into new products for us to buy. It’s a great first step, but it still uses a lot of energy for our councils to collect our recycling, for them to be melted or processed into the basic materials and then re-formed with transportation to and from factories. Often manufacturers have to add a lot of virgin material to the process in order to get a product that is considered acceptable, or simply for the process to work. Many other items just cannot be recycled effectively as they are made from mixed materials that are difficult to separate. Currently only about 9% of plastic is recycled and 21% of glass, so, although most people do recycle, clearly a lot more can be done to improve.
So, what else can we do?
The steps picture (above) gives us other ideas, many of which can save a great deal more energy than simply recycling. Here’s a run-through of the ideas:
A t-shirt can ‘cost’ 15kg of CO2 and a pair of Jeans 33kg of CO2! So, giving them to someone else if they’re not completely worn out could save a lot of CO2 emissions (and water). Can you give something to a friend or arrange a clothes swap party. Can you give them to a jumble sale or charity shop? Re-selling sites like e-bay or local free and for sale sites can be a great help in finding a new home for items that we no longer need, and keeping it local can also save on transport emissions. Because the items don’t need to be re-processed then a lot of energy can be saved compared to someone buying the item new.
Most of us still get washing machines repaired if they are broken, they are a big investment, but we have got into a throwaway culture where we think it’s cheaper to replace something than repair it. Did you know that about 152 million phones are thrown away every year! This is a huge waste, both in terms of natural resources needed to replace an item but also in greenhouse gasses emitted in manufacturing new items. If we can repair many more items then this could have a huge benefit for our environment.
There are now many videos online showing how to repair items, could you look up how to repair your phone, learn some other repair skills? Think about whether there are repair shops or facilities near you. A great new movement is the repair café movement where local people get together to help repair electronics, bicycles, clothes etc for free – try seeing if there is one near you. It’s also worth investing a little more money when you buy an item to try to get one that lasts longer and let the manufacturers know that is what you want! Oh, and please buy a protective case for your phone – mine has survived many falls due to its protective case.
4. Re-use or Re-purpose
Re-purposing is finding a use for an item that isn’t what it was originally intended for, like using old jam jars to store screws or buttons. There are a huge number of really creative ideas out there for how people re-purpose items. The Re-Use database includes over 100 ideas and is growing as people add more ideas. Please have a look, whether you are not sure where to begin, or have lots of ideas to add! This way, we can save more things from going to landfill.
However, the average person gets through 156 plastic bottles every year, and with the best will in the world, we aren’t going to be able to re-purpose every single one of those! So, what’s the next step?
Often even better than re-purposing is to re-use an item for its original purpose. Why not take your own water or drink bottle when you go out, or find a refill shop near you that will refill your own jars, some supermarkets will also refill some of your own containers (our supermarket has loose eggs to refill your own egg box). You might like to make your own jam or chutneys. Of course, there are many products which are designed for re-use where we might have slipped into using single use products: Washable cloths, hankies or sanitary products are some great examples. We are gradually adding more of these to the re-use database too.
This has to be the ultimate goal for all of us – to reduce the amount of new stuff we get, in order to reduce our impact on our planet. Do we really need another t-shirt or pair of jeans? Do we need the latest smart phone or smart watch? Can we make do with what we already have? Can we live in a way such that we don’t need so many clothes, toys and gadgets? Some of the steps above can actually help us to reduce the amount of virgin materials we use, so these steps can all work together.
Can you step up for climate? If you are already recycling – Thank you! How about asking yourself “Can I take another step to reduce my impact?”