We are burdened with a colossal amount of waste in our backyards, not just locally but on a global level. The worst contenders which pollute our land and water bodies, much to our relief, can be recycled.
Recycling is a process which converts waste materials – predominantly plastic, paper, glass, steel, paper and electronics – into new items. Here’s a brief primer on the recycling process:
How is recycling done around the world?
The best examples of recycling across the globe include Norway, which recycles about 97% of its plastic waste. Here’s how it works: the consumers pay tax on each plastic bottle they buy. When they put the used bottle into the recycling machine, they receive a coupon in return. This helps not only the consumers who buy stuff from that money but also small shopkeepers who get a fee in return for the recycled bottles.
China, beginning from January 1, 2018, has stopped taking waste from other countries for recycling purposes. The world’s largest user of scrap plastics contended that most of the import was contaminated and could not be reused. Secondly, it had its own colossal waste to handle.
This scenario changes a) how supplies are being produced now, so as not to generate hazardous waste, and b) the waste collection process itself, which is the leading cause of contamination.
In lieu of proper recycling methods, the waste is either (illegally) dumped into landfills, or worse, burned. The onus ultimately falls on the government, and how much it cares about protecting the environment. It is for them to enforce and encourage recycling of waste locally (and not just exporting the waste to other countries), holding large companies accountable and building a proper infrastructure which makes recycling possible in the first place. This does not mean that we are exempted from making changes on an individual level; we will come to that shortly.
What are the problems faced in recycling?
Most materials are produced without taking recycling into mind. There are plastics that can’t be recycled at all, and these are inevitably burned, causing air pollution. Complex contents of packaging material make it difficult to sort and recycle. A lot of times proper technology is just not available to sort through the different types of materials. While one district or town might be able to recycle one form of a plastic item, this may not be possible in a neighbouring city!
In certain cases, recycling may be harming the environment to some levels. I’ll explain: The cost of recycling a product can be much more than producing it. Not to mention the labour, energy and resources it takes to recycle a product than simply dumping in a landfill. Yet, it is better to recycle plastics than leave them in landfills, where they would ultimately emit greenhouse gases.
What can we do?
Recycling is a complex process, and thus placed as the last of viable options from ‘Reduce, Reuse and
Recycle’. For us, the best solution is to stop buying a lot of things. Let us accept that consumerism is killing our environment. Avoid packaged fruits and vegetables, and instead buy them from a farmers’ market. Carry cloth bags, instead, and resort to reusable utensils for storing beverages. Instead of storing food in aluminum foil or brown bags, keep them in an airtight container that can also be microwaved.
On the producers’ part, they need to provide recycling centers where consumers can return the product for recycling. This is especially useful for electronic items as they require a much more complex, systematic process of recycling.