Every one has heard about the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Reduce what you use
Reuse what you can
Recycle what you can’t
It’s been the guiding principle for people wanting to live in a more environmentally friendly way for decades.
The landfill problem
We are still sending over 7.7 million tonnes of rubbish to landfill each year. Let me just repeat that, 7.7 MILLION tonnes.
That is simply horrendous and even though much of that is biodegradeable, because of the way in which landfill works, it doesn’t decompose properly as it’s in an anaerobic state. You only have to look at the archaelogical finds from peat bogs to see what that means.
Many of the UKs landfill sites are located in flood plains. Lancaster and Morecambe’s Salt Ayre is right next to the River Lune.
Even when like Salt Ayre, these are capped off, they are at risk of releasing toxic waste due to flooding and coastal erosion, many sites contain hazardous chemicals and asbestos.
I don’t know about you but that makes me feel somewhat sick with guilt. Everything I’ve ever chucked away is out there somewhere festering. There is no such thing as away. Everything is still here, and yet we are producing more and more to keep up with demands of the consumer; which is you and I.
Hold on, we as a family recycle as much as possible!
In the UK, we’ve been pretty good at embracing recycling, with over 45% of our waste from households now being recycled. According to figures published by the UK Government in February 2018, In 2016, 71.4% of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered compared to 64.7% in 2015. This actually exceeds the EU target to recycle or recover at least 60% of packaging waste.
So what’s wrong with recycling?
Recycling is a distraction to our growing waste problem. When our ‘stuff’ can’t be refused, reduced or reused it seems favourable to recycle over sending it to landfill.
However, there are no recycling regulations in place for both manufacturers and consumers to follow, labeling is often confusing and the reality is most items get downcycled as opposed to recycled.
Downcycling is where materials are broken down into unrecyclable lesser products. Each time a plastic bag/packet/container gets ‘recycled’ it is actually being broken down to create a new product that becomes unrecyclable both economically and chemically, ultimately destined for landfill which you was trying to avoid initially.
The message in the zero waste world is to recycle when necessary but if you follow the 3 R’s before it, your recycle pile will drastically reduce anyway.
Then there is the China problem
In 2016, the majority of our packaging waste was being transported to China as the world’s biggest processor of recyclable materials. Then, in July 2017, its government told the World Trade Organisation that it intended to halt the import of 24 grades of plastic, textiles and paper, saying the items were often contaminated with dirty or hazardous material.
Plastics, including PVC and polyethylene, were also covered by the ban, along with mixed batches of paper and cardboard. This has thrown the UK recycling process into chaos, there is very little capacity in the UK to do it ourselves.
Not only that but our oceans are full of plastic, whether that’s from discarded fishing nets or plastic being washed into the sea. Every year, we are dumping between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic into the oceans.
That’s the equivalent of two bin lorries full every minute and by 2025, that’s set to double! (you can read more about it at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation)
By 2050, it’s estimated there will be more plastic than fish, in our world oceans.
Something needs to change
In 2011, Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life was published, part biographical and part practical, in it she talks about her families journey towards a less wasteful life. Johnson is widely regarded as the ‘guru’ of the Zero Waste movement and her book is still the go-to bible.
The main thing she talks about is the 5 R’s, this takes the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra and extends it. The 3 Rs often led to too much emphasis on the value of recycling, Johnson says: “Not enough on reusing, and even less on actually reducing.”
Refuse to be a part of the problem. Refuse over-packaged products and single use plastics.
Reduce what you don’t need, simplify your life, donate unused items. Then reduce your carbon footprint in other areas too.
Reuse bags, jars, bottles, clothes; give everything a new lease of life.
Recycle what can’t be refused, reduced or reused.
Rot your organic materials, composting is nature’s natural process of recycling. Assuming of course you can, it’s somewhat naive and definitely presumptive to assume that everyone lives somewhere that has easy access to composting.
The first one personally for me is key, REFUSE, I have begun to regularly ask myself, “Do you actually need this and will it give you long term pleasure?”
The second one is also important, my packrat tendencies leads to clutter and chaos, I was doing too much of 3 and not enough of 2. I could send my clothes to goodwill or clothes recycling but instead I was keeping them in my wardrobe and driving myself crackers.
This just feels so overwhelming!
I know, once you start down this path, it can quickly seem like there is so much to do and you’ll never get there.
It’s key to remember that this is a journey and even just choosing to change one thing in your life makes a real difference. It’s not about perfection. No one is judging you except yourself.
It’s about taking responsibility for your own actions and looking at the bigger picture.
How can I learn more?
There are also Facebook groups out there, there may be one for your local area as well