The world bank estimates that current solid waste generations are approximately 1.3 billion per year, and are expected to increase to approximately 2.2 billion
tons per year by 2025.
But have no fear recycling in here!
The amount of rubbish we create is constantly increasing because of:
- Increasing wealth means that people are buying more products and ultimately creating more waste.
- Increasing population means that there are more people on the planet to create waste.
- New packaging and technological products are being developed, much of these products contain materials that are not biodegradable.
- New lifestyle changes, such as eating fast food, means that we create additional waste that isn’t biodegradable.
The world bank noted that typically the higher the economic development and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste produced.Income level and urbanization are highly correlated and as disposable incomes and living standards
increase, consumption of goods and services correspondingly
increases, as does the amount of waste generated.
But like I said recycling is here to save the day right?
Wrong ! The theory is always much easier than the practical.
Let’s rewind a little bit. Reducing is cutting back on the amount of trash we make, reusing is finding a new way to use trash so that we don’t have to throw it out, and recycling is using trash to remake new goods that can be sold again.
So why don’t I 100% agree with recycling? Well, let’s take a look at the waste hierarchy.
Recycling is only a preferred option over disposal and energy recovery but not the ultimate answer when looking at curbing the solid waste crisis.
The idea of recycling has been around for a couple of generations now.
However, is recycling worth the effort?
Are we really saving energy?
With the growing size of old-school landfills, have people really embraced recycling?
Are all of our efforts to recycle really helping the environment, when in essence, shouldn’t we just learn to use less?
Recycling went from ideal theory to an inefficient solution. On the surface, it’s still a good idea both to recycle waste and to design products and packaging with the idea of recycling them in a closed loop. Unfortunately, in its modern-day incarnation, recycling has also given the manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption as environmentalism.
Every year, reports come out touting rising recycling rates and neglecting to mention the soaring consumption that goes along with them. It has created the ideality that any guilt consumers feel about consuming mass quantities of unnecessary, disposable goods can be traded off by dutifully tossing those items into their recycling bins and hauling them out to the curb each week.
But if more products are being produced at unsustainable rates then there is more to be recycled. You see the problem?
We need to shift to reducing the volume of items that need to be recycled, followed by finding ways to reuse certain items as opposed to tossing them in a trash can or recycling bin automatically. If people make a conscious effort to reduce what they use and then reuse items whenever and however possible, then the number of products we need to recycle will be greatly diminished.
Our consumption habits are the problem as well as our disconnect with the environment. For years our ancestors have lived a life in harmony with nature why can’t we too? We need to encourage large companies to invest in greener products that can biodegrade rapidly or can be reused for other purposes without adverse environmental impacts.
Why don’t we demand better? Why can’t we go to the grocery with our grocery totes which are stronger, has a longer life span and be constantly reused instead of receiving on average 5 plastic bags?
It is my opinion that recycling is actually a giant placebo that makes us feel virtuous. There are issues with collection logistics, a lack of recycling facilities, inadequate processes, limited market, greenhouse emissions etc.
Let’s look at a plastic bottle. It’s almost always made from petroleum, a resource that has its controversies, and if it’s thrown in the trash, the container will live in a landfill for centuries. But how much energy goes into the production of these bottles? How much waste is generated from the production of these bottles ? how mush diesel fuel does the truck that collects these bottles burn? How much energy does the recycling plant consume; what fumes does it emit into the atmosphere? And what does it all cost, anyway?
One of the biggest barriers to more efficient recycling is that most products were not designed with recycling in mind. Remedying this problem may require a complete rethinking of industrial processes, says William McDonough, an architect and the co-author of a book published in 2002 called “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”. If we want to make recycling more efficient it should be should be taken into account at the design stage all materials should either be able to return to the soil safely, reused constantly or be recycled indefinitely.
Ultimately our goal should be to find ways to minimize and prevent waste. Recycling is neither altruistic nor completely self-serving; it comes with clear societal and environmental benefits–perhaps more so than many other businesses–but it also comes with some efficiencies and unsustainable habits that we cannot ignore. As such it cannot be considered the perfect solution for the world’s large and ever-growing consumption and waste problems.
We need to demand better!
It is our land, our waters, our planet, our home!
We need the earth more than it needs us!