By Brian George
Recycling has been around forever. The use or repair of ordinary household items was commonplace but not considered or named in the manner that we tend to look at it today.
My mother used to darn my old woollen school socks, using a large mushroom shaped implement that she pushed into them to sew into the shape. My Father used a piece of cast iron shaped like a shoe embedded in a log, it was a Cobbler’s ‘last’ and he would cut pieces of leather around it to repair my school shoes. That was how things were recycled in my youth. We all used to collect glass bottles and take them back to the shops for the deposit, usually threepence. As kids we’d even climb into the rears of the pub yards and steal the empty bottles to hand back and make money to buy our sweeties.
Recycling as an industry has grown rapidly along with the differing advances in the technology of the materials and the designs of the many products used. This has become a global industry and is affected by all manner of influences.
The huge problem that we have today is how to stop plastic pollution and research is ongoing into how we both recycle and reduce the amount of so many different types of the material. Companies are raising millions of dollars to deal with the problem in litter clean-up in the developing world.
Recycling remains a very important way to reduce litter and waste and to recover valuable materials from the waste while also reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are so damaging to our environment. We as a society are having to come to terms with changing over from putting all our waste into one sack for the people at the plant to sort out because the machinery at the recycling centres was becoming damaged and even in some instances causing health and safety problems to the workers.
Single collection proved too much of a problem, so much that now the public has to be re-educated into breaking down their waste further into separate sections.
Globalisation has even affected waste recycling and who amongst us knew that China takes in much of the west’s waste, and will now only accept shipments with a contamination rate of less than half per cent. All of this means that whatever system your local authority uses is dictated by events elsewhere.
Informal waste collectors in some countries now make a living by separating and collecting the detritus of their society, and this has highlighted the needs to protect them from becoming contaminated.
Even those pictures of people living on rubbish tips across the world are forcing governments to act, so much so that in many countries now those ‘informal’ waste collectors are becoming organised and even paid by their communities. In Buenos Aires, some 5000 of these informal waste collectors are now paid a wage by the city council. Even in Copenhagen the council’s rubbish bins have been manufactured to make it easier for ‘informal’ waste collectors to separate the bottles, cans, paper etc. The more organised these informal collectors become the better their conditions will get.
Consumer pressures have forced the changes and official recyclers and manufacturer’s machinery has gradually been able to handle the separations required. An increasing number of recyclers are able to deal with “less desirable” plastics like supermarket bags or items made of mixed or unknown resins, as can be found in many toys and household items. This doesn’t mean you can toss anything you want into one bin, but it does mean a wider range of products can be recycled than ever before.
We are all having to come to terms with the importance of separation and as usual it is down to re-education of the general public’s habits. Don’t get angry with your local authority when they change your collection methods or routines.
Aluminium cans and glass separation has become commonplace and improved to such an extent that the public are aware, and the recycling is happening indefinitely on these products.
Paper is recycled, but the tiny fibres in it become a little more damaged each time. Even here though the quality of paper made from recycled content has improved dramatically over the past few years. The average piece of virgin printer paper can now be recycled five to seven times before the fibres get too degraded to be useful as new paper. After that, they can still be made into lower-grade paper-based materials like egg cartons or packaging inserts.
How many of us were aware of even that problem?
The benefits of recycling to the planet are clear and obvious as shown on many tv programmes such as The Blue Planet. The following are facts and great examples of how improved our attitudes and pressures are influencing societies changes:
Recycling aluminium cans saves 95 percent of the energy needed to make new cans.
Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60 to 74 percent.
Recycling paper saves about 60 percent.
Recycling plastic and glass saves about one-third of the energy.
The energy saved by recycling one glass bottle will operate a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
Recycling reduces litter, which can spread disease like bacterial or fungal infections.
Recycling creates jobs it is another valuable tool in the fight against climate change, pollution, and major issues our planet now faces.
In many areas, recycling is not simply a government program but has become a dynamic industry with innovations from vending machine collection systems to clever new incentives for consumers and businesses. In many cases, recycling is now actually becoming a positive financial benefit. As usual, follow the money and success will happen.
Figures credit to
By Brian George
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