There are a couple of uncomfortable things about recycling that you need to know about. But before we begin, I need to say something:
Even though recycling isn’t the ultimate solution to the waste problem, it’s still a step in the right direction and should not be used as an excuse to do NOTHING.
If you already recycle, make eco-bricks and buy less – well done, and thank you. If you don’t, recycling is a great place to start. So what are you waiting for?
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”Maya Angelou
History of Plastic
Plastic was invented around 1907. It was cheap, convenient and had many, many uses. Naturally it became widely used during the 1960’s. Since 1950 about 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced.
To put this into perspective, that’s about the same weight as a billion elephants, and it could cover a landmass the size of Argentina (which means you could cover South Africa entirely and still have excess trash to play around with).
Today’s Plastic Problem
We’ve integrated plastic into every single part of our lives. Arguably, we’re all a little blind to how every aspect of plastic – production, usage and disposal – will slowly kill the planet.
The demand for plastic has grown so much that 50% of all trash on earth was produced from 2005. Basically, an invention that was supposed to make everyday life easier spiraled out of control in under a century.
The obvious solution: Stop making new plastic. Surely 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic can be reused somehow. Unfortunately it’s not that simple – and here’s where the What You Need To Know About Recycling part comes in.
Only 9% of all recyclable plastic actually end up being recycled, and here’s why:
1. It’s Cheaper To Make Plastic Than To Recycle Plastic
There are over 50 different types of plastic with overlapping densities. This makes sorting plastic very difficult. Different plastics melt at different temperatures.
Sorting the wrong type of plastic into the wrong pile can become problematic at a recycling plant.
Now for the shocker: Just because it CAN be recycled – doesn’t mean it WILL be recycled.
Not all recycling plants are equal. Not all recycling plants can recycle all plastic.
Additionally, recycling starts with a clean product.
So, water and energy consumption for cleaning recyclables are quite high.
Compared to the relatively cheap price of pumping oil and making new plastics using an established production and distribution system, “virgin” plastic wins the war on costs for now.
2. Infinite Recycling Is A Myth
Even though a product is recyclable, doesn’t mean it can be infinitely recycled. Steel, aluminium and glass are basically the only materials that can be recycled over and over.
The polymers in plastic cross-contaminate during the recycling process and the end product is weakened. Plastic can therefore only be recycled about 7-9 times.
The fibres in paper are shortened each time it’s recycled also resulting in a weakened end product. This is why recycled paper is thicker than new paper. It’s estimated paper can be recycled 4-6 times.
The Ultimate Solution
Plastic Free seems to be the solution here. However, we need to be realistic about what is achievable to the average person or average household.
You and I may commit to a waste free lifestyle, but a few waste free households won’t change the world.
We can only serve to inspire others.
The reality is, the majority of people will still reach for a plastic product.
Maybe because it’s convenient, maybe because our hectic modern lifestyles just don’t allow consideration for an alternative.
Either way, until alternative eco-friendly or bio-degradable products become as widely and frequently used as plastic, the problem will remain.
So What Now?
Okay, I know this post is a bit depressing. Ultimately, everything above contributes to what it means to live a Greenish Lifestyle.
It’s never Green, but rather Greenish.
All solutions aren’t elegant or perfect. There is always something more that can be done. There will always be a problem that needs a better solution. But I keep at it, day after day. I try harder when I fail and get up when I fall.
Sometimes it feels like being a proverbial needle in a haystack of polluters and consumers, but that doesn’t mean I should give up.
And neither should you.
If you also want to do something to help save our planet, here are my top 10 tips:
- Switch to plastic alternatives. Getting started is as easy as visiting my online shop.
- Avoid plastic wherever and whenever you can.
- Properly dispose of what you can’t avoid. You can find more info on Recycling – Where To Start, here.
- Stop buying what you don’t need.
- Re-purpose old items into something new.
- Reduce what you do buy. Having a menu and shopping list helps a lot. Just remember to stick with it.
- If you can, repair what is broken and use it until it can’t be saved anymore.
- As far as possible, buy secondhand. Not convinced? Check out my post on Why Fast Fashion Sucks.
- Plan your trips to reduce the amount of times you travel to shops. It will save you money too.
- Be clever about how you use water. South Africa can always benefit from a little less water consumption.
Until next time…happy Greenish living!