To develop effective recycling programs and solutions, we need to first understand the recycling challenges that account for the low global recycling rate.
The beautiful mother earth that we live in possesses loads of natural resources. The main six natural resources include water, air, oil, natural gas, coal, and minerals. These natural resources humankind always took for granted and abused them. Unfortunately, the earth is running out of these resources due to human negligence. This exhaustion of natural resources urges us to think about saving these limited resources and reusing them instead of wasting them.
Recycling is an important concept which even got recognized in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Many governments, organizations, and individuals are bringing green transformations to protect the environment. Through reducing, reusing, and recycling materials we can make difference by preserving the remaining bounties of the earth.
Recycling Challenges — Why Global Recycling Rate is Low?
To understand the recycling challenges that account for the low global recycling rate, we need to understand recycling and its significance.
Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products — United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Recycling is the component of the three rules of sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Nothing is worthless whether, it is paper or plastic, or aluminum. Most materials are recyclable and reusable. Everything we see is recyclable — clothing, glass, metal, paper, biodegradable waste, and others. The process and level of difficulty of recycling for every material is different.
By the process of recycling, we can elevate the durability and utility of things that have served their initial purpose by turning them into raw materials for manufacturing something else. The reused materials can save the limited natural resources like petroleum, gas, coal, and trees by being their substitutes.
Climate Changes and Recycling
The world is experiencing severe climate changes. Last year, 2020, was the second-hottest year on record for the planet. Deforestation is also posing serious environmental concerns. According to research, every year 18m hectares of forests are cut. We are now witnessing climate challenges of serious nature that need our serious attention. Climate changes also cause problems to the community, especially the rural communities.
So, recycling is the answer to the climate changes and the environmental degradation. Recycling helps safeguard the declining finite natural resources. Also, recycling protects the ecosystem and wildlife. It also prevents the emissions of greenhouse gasses thus, preventing further environmental degradation.
Importance of Recycling
Recycling keeps the trash out of landfills and incinerators, thus saving space for garbage that cannot be repurposed. Landfills pollute the environment and emit greenhouse gasses. Similarly, recycling also prevents air, water, and land pollution due to waste disposal.
Recycling helps in conserving scarce natural resources. Likewise, recycling paper and wood saves trees. Recycling plastic helps to create less plastic which is harmful to the environment. Similarly, recycling metals also prevents the extraction of new metal ores from the earth.
Recycling saves energy as manufacturing products from recycled materials consumes less energy than manufacturing from new raw materials.
The need to extract new raw material has destroyed many communities, especially the poor and vulnerable communities living around rivers and forests. Thus, recycling also prevents the displacement and exploitation of poor communities.
Lastly, recycling activities also create more jobs. According to research, recycling has created 757,000 jobs, which account for $36.6 billion in wages.
Dumping versus Recycling
We are exhausting earth’s natural resources without thinking about their alternatives. Every year a large amount of waste goes into landfills instead of being recycled. The research shows, 2.12 billion tons of waste get dumped every year. While the average global recycling rate is 19% only.
As Annie Leonard is the co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, in an article said:
There is no “away” as far as we try to toss a piece of plastic – whether it’s into a recycling bin or not – it does not disappear. Chances are, it ends up polluting our communities, oceans, or waterways in some form.
Survey by World Economic Forum, SAP, and Qualtrics
The survey by World Economic Forum, SAP, and Qualtrics questioned people globally on their views and attitudes towards sustainability and climate change. The results are as below;
Globally, 84% of the People Think Recycling Is Extremely/Very Important
The survey results indicate that the most recycling-conscious region was Latin America & the Caribbean. While East Asia & the Pacific region was the least recycling-conscious.
Global Recycling Challenges
According to the survey, the biggest recycling challenge was lack of recycling programs and services. According to 42% of the respondents, due to lack of recycling programs and services they were unable to recycle.
A relatively high number of respondents in the Middle East & North Africa (33%), Sub Sahara Africa (32%), and Latin America & Caribbean (31%) said they lacked the knowledge of how to participate in recycling programs.
Additionally, 28% of the respondents in North America considered recycling as inconvenient. Similarly, almost one-fourth of respondents in Western Europe said that they lacked trust in the recycling program.
The Recycling Challenges in Nutshell
Recycling is not getting successful as we have hoped.
According to a recent study, only 9% of the plastic gets recycled and, the rest goes back to landfills and contaminate the environment. People are simply unaware of what to recycle and how to recycle. There is utter confusion regarding recycling. Since people lack knowledge on the recyclable materials, so many items thrown in recycling are usually not recyclable. Likewise, due to this lack of knowledge, recyclable materials go to landfills and rivers.
Besides, the recycling programs and services also vary from area to area. Not all recycling facilities can recycle every type of item, for example, some cannot recycle plastic, and some cannot recycle glass. Similarly, there are inadequate recycling service centers and insufficient recycling programs.
Recycling is an expensive process. It requires resources to collect, sort, and break down recyclable materials. Besides, there is an under-investment in recycling, as consumers and governments are collecting materials for producers, who pay less amount than the cost of collection.
The Seventh Resource
Recycling is the seventh resource that has good benefits. There are amazing things we can produce through recycled materials. So many brands are now getting socially responsible by going green. Many creative brands are creating their products from recycled materials.
In 2016, Adidas launched its shoes made from recycled plastic bottles. They created each pair with 11 bottles. Similarly, a brand called Malafor makes sofas from recycled paper. We also have bottle openers made from recycled baseball bats. Eco-friendly garments made from recycled old clothes and soda bottles. There are amazing skateboards and bicycles made from recycled stuff.
The world is transforming, and from high-end to affordable brands, all now acknowledge the importance of recycling to save the planet.
Recycling is the need of the hour. By recycling, we can put fewer pressures on exhausted natural resources, hence save the earth. As Denis Hayes, an environmental advocate instructed us in his following words:
Listen up, you couch potatoes: each recycled beer can save enough electricity to run a television for three hours.
Despite the recycling challenges, recycling is not as difficult as it sounds. It is easy and creates jobs while saving resources, like water, energy, and money. You can participate in the reusing and recycling process at ease of your home even. We as individuals need to learn what is recyclable and what is not. At home, schools, and workplaces recycling should be encouraged. Lastly, we need to check our own recycling habits and change them for the good of this planet.