Officially, UK households are recycling approximately 45% of their waste – a figure that has been rising over recent years. The current figure is just under the EU target of 50% by 2020, but in terms of packaging that is being recycled, the UK is exceeding EU targets. These figures are encouraging, but what happens to our recycling waste?
A number of news stories having been published recently questioning just where recycling from the UK is going. A watchdog report has discovered that at least some of the plastic waste that is being exported to be recycled is actually ending up in landfill instead. The UK severely lacks the infrastructure to deal with the amount of recycling waste generated by the British public, instead deciding to ship it abroad to be recycled. Recycled waste typically ends up in countries like China, Poland and Turkey, but there are not enough checks to ensure that what we export is actually being recycled. Without these checks, countries may choose to discard the recycled waste as it’s cheaper and there are very few environmental regulations to stop them from doing so.
Sending plastics and other recycled items to landfill has a huge environmental impact. Plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose but as they begin to break down, smaller plastic fibres leach into the ground and enter the soil and groundwater systems. These microfibres can be consumed by small animals and re-enter the food chain, even eventually being consumed by humans.
So, what can you do?
When recycling is done right, it has its benefits in reusing plastics and keeping them out of landfill and keeping plastic out of the environment. However, this report shows that it cannot always be guaranteed that what we put in our recycling bins does actually get recycled. It also highlights that lack of infrastructure to recycle products in the UK, meaning that even more emissions are used in transporting and shipping recycled waste to different countries around the world.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s a slogan that’s often used to encourage people to reconsider what they throw out to waste. Now try to see it as a step-by-step method of reducing the amount of waste you use. Firstly, reduce. Reducing the amount of plastic packaging and items we consume means that less plastic is used and less will eventually go to waste. Secondly, reuse. Although an increasing number of products are moving away from plastic packaging to reusable or biodegradable, sometimes it isn’t always possible to get away from using plastics. That shouldn’t stop us from reusing the plastics and other recyclables we consume though!
Reducing your Plastic Consumption
Unfortunately, there is a lot of wasted plastic used in packaging and it is very difficult to avoid. But, at the same time, there are also plenty of ways that you can reduce the amount of plastic you consume. Below are a few examples of what you can do in certain situations to reduce your plastic consumption!
Carrier bags are a major problem. A lot of supermarkets and shops no longer offer single-use carrier bags, instead offering longer-lasting bags or paper bags. However, bringing your own bags means that no new ones are used. There is always a lot of plastic, often unnecessarily, used to package fruit and vegetable. One way to avoid this is picking from the loose fruit and vegetables and using your own bags or container to hold them before reaching the checkout. The truth is that there are lots of ways to avoid plastics whilst out shopping. There are often alternatives between products that are good to keep an eye out for, and for those of you who want to drastically reduce your plastic consumption, there are ways of creating your own cosmetic products.
There are lots of ways to avoid disposable coffee cups and drinks bottles. For just a few pounds you can purchase reusable coffee cups that many coffee stores are more than happy to fill up and even offer a discount on. Reusable water bottles are also increasingly common and are very cheap to purchase, and can lead to a dramatic reduction in plastic consumption
Whether it’s recycled or not, we consume a huge amount of plastic and it’s something that needs to be addressed urgently whilst we still have the opportunity to do so. This is something that we must pressurise businesses and corporations to change, but that change can also start with us. It’s time we no longer see those heartbreaking videos of animal life caught or injured by discarded plastic waste and start seeing cleaner land and oceans!