CultureDoes Recycling Really Help The Planet?

Does Recycling Really Help The Planet?


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Climate change is an issue of vast importance, and it is becoming one that may come into play in current or future elections.

Vast solutions have been proposed to address such a multi-layered and complex subject, one of them being reducing our carbon footprint via recycling.

But when you dive deeper into recycling, this method might not be doing what it is intended to do.

What do we mean by recycling?

Before digging into if recycling is making an impact, it is important to clarify what we mean by it. Recycling is where you collect and process materials that would otherwise be thrown away as rubbish, and instead, you turn them into new products. Many people support this method because it stops us from wasting materials that would end up in landfills and incinerators. When shipping materials like plastic to landfills, it needs 1,000 years to degrade, whereas recycling, you can use these materials for other uses. Recycling saves energy, creates new jobs, and prevents pollution by reducing the use to collect new raw materials.

With recycling becoming more talked about domestically or globally, there are signs that recycling is being seen as the thing to do. According to the WRAP Recycling Tracker Report, nine out of ten households in the United Kingdom consider recycling an established norm in 2021. The report also found that 52% of Brits recycled more than the previous year, with 18-34s more likely to recycle than any other age group. In the United States, there are also signs that more and more people see recycling as the way to go, with 94% of Americans supporting the method and 74% saying it’s a top priority. However, there is a catch.

Does recycling help the planet?

On the surface level, we can see that people are recycling more, yet beyond that, it is not what it seems. As much as the WRAP report found that households in the United Kingdom are recycling, 85% of those households have contaminated recycling bins, ruining the chances of reusing products. In the same report, while three-quarters of people check recycling information on products, 76% misunderstand what recycling labels mean. Rob Christensen, a writer at The Problem With Jon Steward, says that recycling doesn’t work as in the first forty years, the United States has only recycled about 10% of their plastic. He said: “if seat belts only work 10% of the time, we’d have to fix seat belts… but we don’t fix recycling; we just keep doing it.”

The Hypocrisy of Recycling | The Problem With Jon Stewart Behind The Scenes | Apple TV+

You and I can throw as many benefits to recycling as we want, but recycling won’t help the planet if it is not done right. Not just that, but if the system in place for recycling is not replaced, we will still see a large amount of recyclable waste go to waste. This system goes from how products are made to the recycling process itself. To address the insufficiency of recycling, we must get to the root of such an issue, starting with the materials used to make our products. There needs to be an incentive for businesses to create products that are easier to recycle; otherwise, we will carry on producing more and more waste that can’t be reused.

Additionally, recycling is way too complicated. Despite Americans supporting recycling overwhelming, only 35% go ahead and recycle, and it is down to people not knowing what can be recycled and what can’t. 55% of British households also have the same issue whereby they put items in rubbish bins that can be recycled. As much as we want to recycle, we haven’t got a system or the education in place that uses the potential of this method to the fullest.

Recycling must adapt

Currently, recycling isn’t being done properly across many countries, which is why there are question marks around such a method. These people include Jon Stewart and his backroom team, who through their show are interrogative about recycling and if there is a point to it. As much as recycling can’t save the plant by itself, especially when you see 100 oil companies contributing to just 71% of global carbon emissions, recycling can at least play a small role in the solution. But, for recycling to be part of the solution, it must change. The positive is that there are people out there who are willing to change their habits and recycle.  But more importantly, it’s about finding a way to make recycling easier so that it doesn’t become redundant.  

Hamish Hallett
Hamish Hallett
Hamish Hallett is a journalist/broadcaster part of the scribe team at Common Sense. He has a deep interest in current affairs, both domestically and internationally. Hamish loves to understand what makes people tick and get to the root of today's issues. Away from the network, Hamish has a profound interest in reading books, keeping active, travailing, meeting new and exciting people and controversially having ham and pineapple on pizza.

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