When talking about our mission as a family to cut out as much plastic as possible from our lives I generally get the same response from most people, “oh but we are really good at recycling” and I just can’t bring myself to tell them that it’s pretty much pointless. Ok pointless is the wrong word. Don’t get me wrong we still have some plastic in our house and when we can I ALWAYS recycle it, or reuse it first if I can but when it comes to plastic, recycling just isn’t the answer we are made to believe it is. According to Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society only 9% of plastic is recycled. Try and get your head around that…. the fact that 91% of all the plastic ever made is still sitting somewhere un-recycled. Unless of course it’s been incinerated which is better than landfill but not great for green house gases.
And that’s not the end of the story. Unlike glass and paper materials which can be infinitely recycled, plastic loses properties when it’s given a new life so can only be regenerated so many times, often into a material with less market value and often not itself recyclable, referred to as “downcycling”. This also depends on weather companies will actually buy the recycled products and that depends on the price of oil. If the price of oil is low it’s actually cheaper to make new plastic
So when you put that plastic bottle into your green bin, chances are it either won’t be recycled or it will but will end up in a landfill in its next life.
Huge companies however don’t want us to know this. They need to make as believe they are constantly finding the solutions, because that would be cheaper for them. Pampers for example recently claimed they are looking into ways of recycling their nappies by turning them into bottle tops. But really!….. I won’t go into all of the obstacles that would face, but that still doesn’t stop that bottle top ending up in a landfill later on, plus the carbon emissions the production and transport of said nappies had already created and the carbon emissions from an intensive recycling process. And how are they going to sort poopey nappies from the rest of the recycling?I could go on and on…..
So where does all of the plastic you put in your green bin with such good intentions go?… Well many of you might be surprised to hear it goes across the globe to Asia….
Up until last year when China introduced a ban on foreign waste coming into the county in a bid to increase its local industries, the UK was shipping two thirds of its waste to China and Hong Kong, equating to half a million tonnes of plastics. Much of this plastic is then deemed contaminated. This could be for a number of reasons such as food waste being mixed in, and therefore is too labour intensive to sort so is just sent to a landfill in China.
And so where did it all go once China declared we couldn’t send our rubbish to them? Well it’s sitting in a landfill in Malaysia.
“It’s grossly unfair for rich countries to send their plastic waste to poor countries that are already struggling to cope with their own waste problems, and the practice needs to stop” Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said.
So their sending it back… and quiet right too, it’s our problem, we need to sort it.
And so, there’s two things I would like you to take from this post… number one. Small Steps. It’s not plausible to cull every bit of plastic from your life today, but maybe next time you put something into your recycling bin have a think about the journey it could be about it take. Around the world and back again? To a sunny country we would love to visit? (Malaysia is lovely by the way). To a place for someone else to deal with, where the people are less privileged than us… and then think, is this something I really needed? Can I swap it for something better?
Number two, to make sure everything you put in your recycling bin is supposed to be there and if it is make sure it’s clean. Pin the recycling leaflet that comes through the door to your fridge, pull the cellophane off the plastic dish and give it a rinse. I know I bang on about it but it may take you a few seconds longer but before you know it it’s habit. Otherwise your whole bin could make it abroad only to end up in a landfill anyway because you left milk in the bottle…..
Even better, instead of being proud of how much you recycle, be proud of how much less you need too.