As the issue of climate change grows ever more urgent, we are constantly being told that we need to do more to protect the environment – both as a society and on an individual level. One particular area governments have concentrated on in recent years is recycling, with numerous initiatives and campaigns designed to increase the amount of waste we recycle and reduce the amount that goes to landfill. And it seems that this is having an effect, with UK recycling rates reaching an all-time high of 44.9% in 2014.
So, why does so much effort go into encouraging recycling? Why is recycling so important and what impact does it have?
We all know that we live on a planet with finite resources. Unless things change, at some point the resources that we rely on to live our modern lives, such as oil and metal, are going to run out. This is where recycling comes in. Recycling helps to conserve our precious natural resources by putting materials back into use. Recycling and reusing materials lessens the need to mine or extract new materials, a process that often has devastating environmental and social consequences.
Pollution and Climate Change
Most scientists agree that climate change is man-made, caused by rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is where recycling can have a really big impact, helping to reduce the level of CO2 that we produce. For example, recycling 1 tonne of plastic saves approximately 1 tonne of CO2 when compared to making 1 tonne of plastic from raw materials. And, in total, the UK’s recycling helps to save around 18 million tonnes of CO2 – the equivalent to removing 5 million cars from our roads.
Furthermore, some of the waste we send to landfill generates methane as it breaks down – a gas which is even more powerful than CO2 and has a harmful impact on the environment. Landfill waste also affects the local environment, with chemicals leaching through the soil to pollute local rivers and waterways.
As well as helping to preserve and protect the environment, recycling also offers economic benefits. The materials that we recycle, such as steel, plastic and paper, should be viewed as valuable commodities rather than simply waste products – aluminium for example has a value of approximately £800-£1000 per tonne.
Recycling is also hugely important to our future economy, with the potential to create 10-200 times the amount of jobs generated by sending waste to landfill. With the effects of the last European recession still being felt, this is a really important consideration.
For those who are sceptical about climate change, or about the difference people can make simply by recycling their rubbish, it’s worth noting that recycling can also reap benefits for your local area. The fewer items we send to landfill, the less money local authorities need to spend on landfill tax. This means that councils have more money available to spend on local amenities such as libraries and youth centres.
Is it enough?
While recycling is hugely important, there are other things we can and should be doing to protect the planet. Reducing and reusing what we consume are key to conserving our resources and minimising our environmental footprint. And there are steps we can take every day to reduce our impact such as saving energy, leaving the car at home and conserving water.
It’s also important that we look outside of ourselves to examine the goods and services we purchase. Even purportedly green companies can have an adverse impact on the environment. Green festivals for example can damage the fields on which they are held unless they take steps to protect the ground they are using. If you are unsure of a company’s green credentials it’s always worth looking for supporting evidence of their claims.
Recycling is clearly hugely important, proving both economically and environmentally beneficial. Recycling is one of the easiest ways in which people can reduce their environmental impact, and with the global population topping 7 billion, it is more important than ever before if we are to protect the planet and our way of life for future generations.
Henry Savage is the Director of All Weather Access, a ground protection and Trakmat hire company. Henry is an expert in ground protection and is skilled at matching the best ground protection solutions to his customers’ requirements