Why should we recycle? Benefits of recycling and how to do it right

Why should we recycle?, We should recycle because it reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It reduces the need to extract new raw materials which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling saves money and creates jobs. Creating products from recycled materials saves energy. Recycling is important as it helps tackle climate change and keep our Eco- systems including its wildlife safe and healthy.

Why should we recycle? Because it takes little effort but has a great effect.
Sorting bins for recycling

Why should we recycle? It is a valid question. I have always recycled but just like you, I started to ask myself, why do I do this again? So I started to do a lot of research. I watched multiple documentaries on the subject and I spent hours digging through many reports.

In this post I will go deeper into the question, why should we recycle? 

#Why should we recycle
#Our-problem-with-our-waste
#What-happens-if-we-don’t-recycle?
#What is recycling?
#What-is-a-circular-economy?
#Benefits of recycling
#How-to-recycle-the-do’s-and-dont’s
#Do’s
#Don’t-s
#What-to-do-next?

Our problem with our waste

The world population produces over 2.01 billion tons of waste each year. Only about roughly 32% of that gets recycled. When our waste is not recycled, it usually ends up in landfills. The world is now expected to produce over 3,4 billion tons of plastic within the next 30 years. Today, the world is producing a record amount of single use plastic. Needless to say that our waste has become a global and growing issue. Even the cleanest countries in the world, have not been able to recycle all of theire waste.

Why should we recycle?
Why should we recycle? Look at the photo of this landfill above..

What happens if we don’t recycle?

Considering the fact that we still recycle a LOT of our waste, it is concerning that it is still estimated that over 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean on an annual basis. (1) The waste that is not recycled usually ends up in landfills. A landfill is the disposal of waste material by burying it, especially as a method of filling in and reclaiming excavated pits. (2) This is a form of poor disposal and it leads to the emission of infectious gasses which are toxic. These gasses can result in various health issues. (3)

The landfills directly affect the lives of 64 million people. (4) If we do not recycle, the amount of landfills will grow and the amount of people affected by them will increase. More and more places on earth will become inhabitable as an effect of our waste.

 The way we ‘’get rid’ of our waste in term, results in a LOT of our waste ending up in our oceans. This can occur for example when landfills get overrun with water during heavy rainfall. The amount of plastic in the oceans today has been estimated to be 75 to 199 million tons. Every year about 33 billion pounds of plastic is added to this. If we don’t recycle these numbers will most likely increase each year. (5) The damage to our climate and oceans will be irreversible.

Why should we recycle?
Our waste ends up in our oceans and damages the wildlife

 When we do not recycle, our natural resources will likely run out. Another dire effect will be the increase of air and water pollution caused by the extraction of natural resources. This will only increase if we do not recycle.

What is recycling?

Recycling is a process in which waste is converted into new, useful products. Recycling happens in essentially 3 steps:

  1. Collect the recyclables;
  2. The recyclables are sent to a recovery facility. Here they are sorted and cleaned;
  3. The recyclables are now processed into materials that can be used in manufacturing.

 The recycled materials can then be sold and bought like raw materials would. 

Why should we recycle?
A small version of how our recyclable waste can be sorted

What is a circular economy?

The circular economy is a model of production and consumption in which products and materials exist for as long as possible. This is established through a system of reusing, repairing, leasing, sharing and recycling. In this way the life cycle of a product or a material is extended. (6)

Recycling is an essential part of the circular economy. This model would ensure sustainable growth over time and is thus preferable.

Benefits of recycling

So why should we recycle? One of the great benefits from recycling is that it costs less energy to make products with recycled materials than it does with raw materials. A good example of this is when producing new aluminum from old products, 95% less energy is used than when making it from scratch. This in turn reduces the carbon emission.

Another effect is that the landfills will reduce in size each year till they will ideally no longer exist. This will in turn ensure healthier Eco- systems which will help protect our wildlife and nature.

Furthermore,research has shown that recycling creates up to 9 times more jobs than landfills do. Besides the jobs it creates, recycling is also a LOT cheaper then general waste disposal (up to 6 times cheaper). (7)

When recycling becomes the norm, the need to extract more raw materials becomes smaller. This will simply mean, less forest will be cut down for their wood. Also our wildlife will not be harmed in the processes of extractions. There will be a significant reduction in pollution as an effect of the above. 

Right now, the global demand for raw materials causes tensions between and within countries. As planet resources are finite, it is only a matter of time till we will run out. Recycled materials can easily be shipped and distributed from one place to another, making it a great benefit.

How to recycle, the do’s and don’t-s

 When it comes to recycling it is good to inform yourself on how to do it the right way. Therefore I have summed up some of the do’s and don’t-s, so that your effort will not be in vain. However, it is important to be aware that there is no universal law when it comes to recycling. This is why I always recommend you to check your local recycling guidelines.

Do’s

  • Rinse out any food or beverage containers before recycling it;

When these containers are not cleaned off, they may cause contamination and will eventually end up in a landfill anyway as they can no longer be recycled.

  • Separate your materials;

When it comes to recycling we can divide our waste materials into the following categories:

cardboard, commingled (glass, aluminum, plastic), mixed paper and compost. Please check in your local recycling guidelines, in which bin or where to dispose of what material.

Not all plastic for example can be recycled. In the image below you can see the symbols found on our plastic product. From our 7 types of plastic, only 1( pete), 2 (HDPE) and in most cases 5 (PP) are recyclable. Please refrain from recycling any plastic with the other symbols on it.

When checking the packaging, look for this symbol and check the number
  • Break down your packing before recycling;

Sometimes packaging consists of some different materials. Please check your packaging and dispose of the materials in the right way. Also, breaking down your packaging will save space in your bin so that more waste can fit and less trash pickup is necessary.

Don’t-s 

  • Do not recycle plastic bags;

This one personally surprised me but upon further research it made sense. The thin plastic Shopping bags tend to clog up the recycling equipment. This however doesn’t mean you should just throw them away. Besides reusing these bags, most grocery stores will take our used plastic bags and recycle them in the correct way for you.

  • Don’t recycle your empty pizza boxes;

The grease from the pizza that has leaked into the cardboard will contaminate the other recyclables. Also, the oil cannot be separated from the fibers during the recycling process.

  • Don’t recycle your garden waste;

Instead, put it in your own compost bin and use it to fertilize your own plants and backyard.

  • Don’t throw electronic waste with your other recyclables;

Most of these items can be recycled but not at home. Please collect all your electronic waste and bring them to your local electronic waste stations. These are usually located in your supermarkets or electronic stores.

These are some guidelines that are commonly the same all over the world but I encourage you to research your local recycling guidelines.

When it comes to our waste, something to keep in mind are three R’s. Reuse, Reduce and Recycle.  Although recycling is a great way to contribute to a better tomorrow, it is important to note that consumerism is a big contributor to the big amounts of waste out there. Therefore I encourage you to shop responsibly. Check for Eco- friendly shopping brands and try to go slow on heavy packaging. 

Another great tip is to learn how to upcycle. Upcycling basically means giving your used products a new life. 

What to do next?

Recycling is important. I definitely encourage everyone to look into your local recycling guides. Please shop responsibly and check the packaging before you purchase a new product.  I hope everyone will find the time and make the effort to recycle their own waste in a correct manner. Recycling is an essential step into our journey to a cleaner and healthier planet. So let’s all keep in mind:, Reuse, reduce and recycle.

Picture of Veerle van Beest

Veerle van Beest

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