In my student years, I lived with a broad range of people. Likewise, their views on recycling was equally varied, from the “who cares?” to the militant eco-warrior. My longest-lived flatmate was the former, and I the latter, so as one can imagine, the debate sprung up more than once: why bother recycling?
I suppose I recycle because my parents recycled, and it just feels the right thing to do. Certainly, there were reasons for me and my begrudging roomie to just throw it away. More effort was needed to recycle our waste. Traipsing down a busy Edinburgh highstreet carrying heavy bag of clinking empty beer bottles was both exhausting and a little embarrassing. It would’ve been a damn sight easier just to chuck ’em in the much more local rubbish bins. There was no tangible gain for us walking the extra mile. However, despite this, I soldiered on, convinced of my righteousness. But why? Under my flatmate’s dissecting eyes, I decided on the following three reasons:
Reason the first. Recycling saves energy in manufacturing new materials. Some 90% of the energy of manufacturing virgin aluminium is saved if scrap aluminium is used as the feedstock. Similarly, 60% is saved for metal and 40% for glass. Using paper and plastic is less ideal, as they can only be downcycled, rather than recycled proper. The shredding and remoulding processes result in shorter polymer chains and fibres, making for a lower quality product. There’s still several cycles left in that milk carton, however.
Secondly, recycling saves on landfill space. There’s no such thing as ‘away’ in which to throw anything. Your waste is transported out to the British countryside, and simply left there. Throwing something away is littering by proxy, on a huge scale.
Finally, recycling slows the rate at which we need further mine for raw materials. Here the damage done is less local to Britain. Mining is hugely polluting, and seems oddly unnecessary when we have perfectly good, utilisable ore sitting in kitchen bins across Britain. A tonne of gold ore yields a kilo of gold; a tonne of mobile phone yields ten kilos of gold. Talk has begun of mining roadsweeper dust for the platinum shed from catalytic converters.
But, regardless of this utilitarianism, I can’t help but drift back to my original point; It just feels the right thing to do. To me, it seems palpably selfish to strut through one’s life, letting one’s unwanted waste lie where it falls. To recycle is to give consideration to others. Littering and smoking are much the same, belying a lack of care for fellow humans.
Of course, no article on recycling is complete without mentioning that it is but one of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. Recycling is, in fact, the least desirable of these options, which should be followed in that order. Recycling is a great way to decrease the waste we all leave behind, but only reducing our consumption can reduce the waste we produce. Obvz.