What is recycling?
Recycling and reuse
: If waste cannot be prevented, as
many of the materials as possible should be recovered, preferably by recycling. The European Commission has defined several specific 'waste streams' for priority attention, the aim being to reduce their overall environmental impact. This includes packaging waste, end-of-life vehicles, batteries, electrical and electronic waste. EU directives now require Member States to introduce legislation on waste collection, reuse, recycling and disposal of these waste streams. Several EU countries are already managing to recycle over 50% of packaging waste.
So recycling usually involves collection of the waste materials by the responsible authority, and, generally, the disassembling of the used product into its basic components. The basic components are then processed and serve as raw material for another product. This can be the same as the original – a new glass bottle from waste glass bottles – or a totally different one: Recycled PET bottles can be used to produce anything from a plastic park bench to active-wear clothing.
Why is recycling important?
- To protect the environment
Environmental preservation is another important benefit of recycling.
For once, recycling allows us to reduce our carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, a major contributor to global warming. Manufacturing certain products releases a lot more carbon dioxide than recycling them would. For example, producing new aluminum goods emits 95 per cent more carbon dioxide than recycling old aluminum objects. Each ton of paper recycled saves 17 trees from being felled – and one tree absorbs almost 125 kg of carbon dioxide each year.
Furthermore, recycling saves energy. Recycling involves much smaller amounts of energy than manufacturing. For example, recycling paper requires almost 65 per cent less energy than producing new sheets of paper. Less energy consumption also means lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Secondly, large amounts of waste in Europe are still disposed of in landfills. Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia have a landfill rate of over 90 per cent, with Romania landfilling 100 per cent of its 404 kg of municipal waste produced per person per year. Areas that could be used as landfills are getting scarce, at times they are slowly creeping closer to crowded settlements making humans vulnerable to diseases. Apart from the obvious destruction of beautiful landscape, landfills have many other negative impacts: water pollution from leachates seeping down to groundwater; landfill gas emissions adding to the greenhouse effect; dust which can contain infectious agents; noise and odour pollution;…
- To limit the consumption and waste of raw materials
Natural resources are finite - and they are scarce, under pressure from rising population, growing economies, and changing consumer trends across the world. In a world of 9 billion people by 2050, the UN estimates 5-6 t/y/person as sustainable; currently, the average person in the UK consumes 12 tonnes of resources per year. It is clear that actions to reduce this consumption are indispensable.
An estimated 3 billion new wealthier consumers will enter the global market by 2030, additionally heightening global demand and competition for resources. A recent survey of European businesses found that 87 per cent expect prices of raw materials to rise in the next 5-10 years. Costs of some materials have already grown dramatically - the price of copper increase 400 per cent between 2000 and 2010. Average commodity prices are already higher than at any time in the past century - wiping out a century of falling costs.
Realising that every item and material we use, either natural or manufactured, is a resource which has a value, and safeguarding through recycling the secondary resources that flow through our economy, is essential to allow our economy to prosper and to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.