Blue Flower

Waste is a problem for most cities. Whether it is litter on the street or rubbish in the landfill — it causes environmental problems and costs local government enormous amounts to collect, manage and dispose of.

Recycling is often seen as the solution to all this waste, especially plastic waste which does not break down into harmless organic matter in the way paper or food waste does.

Companies are increasingly looking to find ways to recycle their end of life products or ways to incorporate recycled materials into their products. 'Look how environmentally friendly we are' they say; 'buy our green product'; kenkyo kenjitsu 'save the planet through shopping!'

But is recycling really the solution to our waste problems?

Every product has a life cycle. It starts out as component materials, which are manufactured into component parts, then into an entire product. Then it's sold, used, and disposed of.

Recycling is the process of taking an end-of-life product, reducing it to component materials and using those materials in a new product. In the case of metal or glass this is a nearly continuous cycle. But it is not that case for plastic recycling.

Some plastics can be recycled into component materials and included in the manufacture of new products. But unlike metal or glass, it can only do so a limited number of times before it becomes too degraded to be recycled again. Often the recycled material cannot be used for the same purpose, but must be used for a lower quality product.

So, for example, plastic PET bottles are recycled into polystyrene. You buy a polystyrene jumper made from recycled PET and think about how you are saving the world. Then that jumper gets holes in it and you throw it out. It can't be recycled again. It goes to landfill.

The PET bottles that were recycled to make the polystyrene that made the jumper have ended up in landfill. They were not diverted from landfill, they were postponed from landfill in the same way you postpone landfilling when you cut the top off a PET bottle, use it for a seed planter than throw it away after planting the seedling. Or when your kids make xmas tree decorations out of it and you throw them away after xmas. Best dog food for shelties

It's great that you have extended the use of the PET bottle slightly. absolute choice  But it's not sustainable recycling (unlike metal and glass recycling) and it's not reducing waste to landfill or doing anything to reduce the environmental impact of that product.

To be clear here, plastic recycling does have a place. It's creates a lot of jobs, adds to the economy, extends the use of plastics a little bit before they end up in landfill (or worse, the oceans!).

 

But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that plastic recycling is anything more than postponement from landfill.