Ahhhh Recycling. Often the first ‘R’ that brands and companies jump to, even though it is far down in our waste hierarchy and really, should be the very last option. Of course, having something that can be easily, safely and efficiently Recycled is incredibly important. But before we effectively destroy a material using an energy intensive process to remake it into something else, we should be considering all of our other, more preferable options first. Reducing something, Reusing something, Repairing something… brands saying ‘hey, it’s ok consumer – it can be recycled!’ is rather unfair, and pushes the responsibility on us – rather than the responsibility lying with the producer or manufacturer to give us better options.

However, as we have seen in other sections, this is changing. More Reuse is certainly being encouraged and shown to be viable forms of business model and Reducing our single-use anything means that we don’t need to Recycle it.

Another issue with Recycling is that there is often no clear, universal strategy on how to deal with a particular material or product at end-of-life. The systems are wide and very varied, but when they work, they can work well. For example, aluminium is widely Recycled and easily reprocessed, with no loss of quality to the metal, and actually can save 95% of the energy needed to create a can from scratch. This makes a lot of sense! But not everything is Recycled everywhere – in the UK, one local authority may allow you to recycle yoghurt pots, yet the local authority in the county next door, may not. Differing messages causes confusion, or contamination of recycling, as we don’t understand what we can and cannot put into our kerbside recycling bins. And of course, manufacturers do not help, by putting generic ‘recyclable’ logos on their packaging.

So Recycling has its place – but for a true circular economy it will form part of a unified strategy to keep materials pure and reprocessable – and in a way that can be controlled and monitored in safe conditions, not just the go-to solution. We also need to think about dealing with it more locally – shipping our Recycling off to distant shores and passing our problems on to those in developing countries who may not have a robust infrastructure is not an ethical way to be working globally.

So, can I Recycle it?

  • don’t be fooled by logos like the one above! Check exactly what material your item is (usually shown by a numbered code, or acronym), and check with your local authority if it can be Recycled where you are.
  • if you think something is excessively packaged, or you are having an issue dealing with it where you live, tell the manufacturer!
  • think of Recycling as the last option, rather than the go-to action.
  • we can recycle more than we realise though – and there are other locations to do so. Check out Terracycle for details and locations of what you can Recycle close to you.
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