top of page

Does Recycling Work?

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

With climate change being such a major issue a lot of us want to do our bit to help the planet. We reduce the amount of waste we produce, we don't buy things that we really don't need and we recycle. But, there has been a lot of news about recycling, the reports are that recycling doesn't work and it's actually a waste of time and resources.

What Is Recycling?

Recycling is taking an item and turning it into something new. This isn't like using an old jumper to make a pair of mittens, it's taking old drink cans, melting them down and using them to make a new bike. It is a good thing because it means that we use less of the Earth's resources, we create less waste as we're using the same things again, also recycling uses less energy to make new things than starting from scratch. This can lead to less pollution of the land, air and water.

How Does Recycling Work?

In the UK, between 2015 and 2016, 27.3 million tonnes of waste was collected, this is an amount that increases almost every year. But, at the same time, the amount of waste being recycled is also increasing, by around 1% each year. Recycling starts with you putting clean waste in the correct bin, from there the recycling bin, box or sack is emptied into collection vehicle which takes the rubbish to a Material Recovery Facility and loads it onto conveyors. The sorting process begins with the removal of incorrect items such as crisp packets and plastics bags, vibrating machines separate cardboard and paper - different types of paper are sorted by hand. The remaining recyclables continue on another conveyor where steel cans are removed using magnets and different types of plastic are separated using optical scanners. A special kind of magnet called an eddy current is used to sort aluminium cans, glass should be all that is left and this drops off the end of the conveyor into a large container. Once sorted the different types are sold to companies that will make the waste in new items to be sold again.

Food Waste

Around 10 million tonnes of food and drink was wasted in 2015, this is roughly one quarter of the 41 million tonnes of food bought and roughly 60 per cent of this is avoidable. 70% of the food waste created comes from homes, people buying food and not eating it, people being unsure if food is still okay to eat and people simply being wasteful. In shops and restaurants there are many different schemes being used. Food is sold cheaply at the end of the day to avoid throwing it out, some places give food to the homeless, some types of food waste can be used to make animals feed. Recycling food waste at home is a great idea, but it is definitely better to stop the waste before it begins, buy only what you need, learn how to read use by and best before dates and learn how to check food for safety.

Problems With Recycling

The best way to deal with waste is prevention, that is to not create waste in the first place. Don't use plastic bags if you don't need to, avoid packaging, only buy what you need, etc. But, where waste can't be avoided the next best thing is reusing. This is great for the thick reusable plastic shopping bags, not so great for cloth bags, like tote bags, as they use more resources to make than the plastic ones and are rarely recycled. Then, if you can't reuse an item, you should attempt to recycle it. However, in a 2017 survey of UK households, almost two thirds of people didn't know which items could be recycled. This led to over three quarters (76%) of people trying to recycle things that were not accepted locally and over half (53%) of people throwing rubbish in the regular bin that could have been recycled.

Tips For Making The Most of Recycling

  • All waste needs to be reasonably clean to be recyclable. Pizza boxes are a big problem here, they are often covered in grease and cheese, even the vegan ones. This can stop them from being usable. Baked bean cans should be rinsed and paper removed, containers need to be given a quick wash. If these things aren't done then the mixture of dirty waste with clean waste can lead to the whole lot going to landfill.

  • Receipts can't be recycled. Receipts are made of paper that is coated in a plastic that cannot be removed, this means that receipts have to go to landfill instead of being recycled.

  • If you are not sure about something being recyclable don't add it in and hope. Contamination can cause a lot of items to be thrown away when they could have been used again.

  • You can recycle items from every room in your house, food cans and drinks bottles from the kitchen, shampoo bottles from the bathroom and deodorant cans from the bedroom. Just rinse everything that can be cleaned, make sure that deodorant cans are spent and sort them into the correct bin.

  • Leave lids on glass waste like jars and bottles, to stop dirt from getting into them.

  • Not all glass objects can be recycled, glasses, pyrex and perfume bottles cannot be recycled.

  • Cutlery, pots and pans, plates and mugs cannot be recycled, putting these things in your recycling bin will cause contamination, put them in general waste.

Recycling is just one of the many things that we can do to reduce our environmental impacts, reduce our carbon footprint and the amount of pollution we all contribute to. If we do it right we can all make a positive difference.


bottom of page