Recycling waste and buying products made from recycled materials can help lessen human impact on earth’s resources – and perhaps if more people embraced it a little more, we might be able to nudge Earth Overshoot Day further towards December 31st, where it belongs.
How beneficial is recycling?
Recycling aluminium is very positive for the environment, with recycling aluminium using 95% less energy than producing it from raw materials, along with releasing 97% less greenhouse gas emissions and saving the CO2 equivalent of driving over 25,000 miles in raw materials for every ton of aluminium produced.
Aluminium is what’s known as ‘infinitely recyclable’, meaning carbon and raw material savings every time we choose to buy and recycle something packaged in it. Glass is also infinitely recyclable, but plastic has a finite recyclability before it will ultimately be discarded and then takes centuries to degrade. In fact, it is thought that every piece of plastic ever made on earth is still on earth in some form.
Using products made from recycled materials is also a way to minimise environmental impact. A 2012 study looked at the environmental savings from producing recycled paper over virgin paper and found it used 33% less energy, released 37% less emissions and 49% less water.
When we fail to separate recyclable waste, or we buy items that cannot be recycled (or are wrapped in packaging that cannot be recycled), this waste takes one of two routes after disposal: it will go to landfill, or to an incinerator. The route your waste will take will be largely determined by where you live and which facilities you are closer to (those in Oxfordshire will see their non-recyclable waste shipped to Ardley Energy Recovery Facility where it is burnt to produce energy). It’s worth noting that the process of incineration– though it produces energy – is far from ideal. Not only does the process create toxic pollutants such as dioxins, acid gases and heavy metals, but the energy required to run the plants is also significant and more than would be required to recycle the same volume of materials, were they recyclable. It’s good practice, therefore, to separate your waste carefully to ensure that everything that can be recycled, is recycled!