Tomorrow marks the beginning of National Recycle Week, with the aim this year being:
to get us all thinking about all the items we can recycle from around the home that we might not previously have thought about recycling (Recycle Now)
Now, I think this is a great idea. We should all think more carefully about what we can recycle. However, I think that recycling is similar in some ways to carbon off-setting, in that it gives us ‘permission’ to carry on as before with the same level of consumption. Telling ourselves that it’s ok to keep buying ‘stuff’ and using resources because they can be recycled is really not sustainable at current levels of consumption. Recycling takes energy, but less than production from raw materials:
It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials. Making recycled steel saves 60%, recycled newspaper 40%, recycled plastics 70%, and recycled glass 40%. These savings far outweigh the energy created as by-products of incineration and landfilling. (Stark State College)
But it still takes energy – and there can be other negative outputs, such as from the bleaching and de-inking processes in paper recycling. So, whilst recycling should be one of our ways to be more sustainable, it shouldn’t be our first one. It would be much better if we didn’t actually use the object or resource in the first place. If you don’t accept the plastic carrier bag offered to you in the supermarket and instead use a cotton bag or a basket or a box of your own, then one less bag will be in circulation and it will never need disposing of at the end of its life.
Reducing consumption is a much more effective way of saving the planet, and if you do already own ‘stuff’ then, when it comes to the end of its, life consider whether it could be repaired or re-used or repurposed. And if you get fed up and want a change, why not try a bit of adaptation, embellishment or upcycling? All these approaches encourage us to be creative – to see our ‘stuff’ in different ways and to think about our options.
So this National Recycle Week I will be:
- repairing some pyjamas (and thus not buying new ones)
- buying my fruit and vegetables loose and using my own bags
- sorting through all my old teaching notes, extracting the paper for use in the garden and saving all the cardboard folders, lever-arch files, box files and poly-pockets for reuse
- opening my post with a letter opener so that I can use the envelopes again with the aid of some envelope reuse labels
- and continuing to look for ways to be creative with my ever-increasing pile of OHP transparencies… before I give up and send them to Emily in the US to get them recycled!
- oh, and recycling too… I always do.