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Recycling; the good, the bad, and the ugly

Welcome to #TRVSTLOVES. We curate news, ideas, and inspiration from across the world, demonstrating how real action can accomplish a positive social impact. This time we’re talking about recycling; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Let’s talk trash

Lets talk trash
Photo by Muhammad Yasir on Unsplash

It’s worth kicking off with some recycling facts from around the world. We love a good fact, especially when they’re inspirational too!

Did you know, for example, that according to a World Economic Forum report, Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world? One key reason for this is that they have a proper method to sort waste. And did you know that the Swedish have had a deposit system in place for a long time to give people money back when they recycle? Sweden is now working towards a circular economy approach where all products need to be 100% reusable and have even developed a unique word for this system known as “panta.” It’s such a great idea to create an entirely new word or phrase to be associated with a new initiative. It refreshes the concept and helps to spike interest.

English speaking people are well used to the phrase “recycle,” yet more education around this is clearly needed. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce something new, representing new intentions to deal with the current challenges we face to reuse and recycle. Ideas on a (recycled) postcard, please!

A radical plan to end waste

Entrepreneur Andrew Forrest talks with head of TED, Chris Anderson, about one of the more significant problems we face: how to end plastic waste. While he acknowledges the benefits of plastic on the economy, we simply cannot ignore its effects on our environment. Andrew talks about the common misconception that plastic is solid and doesn’t degrade at all, so the biggest issue is that it takes up space. But that, of course, is not the case. It does degrade; it fragments, breaking into micro and nano plastics. There’s evidence that these particles are now making their way into human bodies too.

Andrew has been speaking with oil, gas, and fast-moving consumer companies, who he says are all keen to make vital changes. So give “A Radical Plan to End Plastic Waste” a listen and hear about his ambitious plan to get the world's biggest companies to fund an environmental revolution. There’s a particularly shocking image of a “plastic river” in the Philippines, but it’s important that we see these images, however painful. Just because it isn’t on our doorstep doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. 

Is recycling broken?

recycling bin
Photo by Alp Duran on Unsplash

Originally recorded in January 2020 and re-released this year, “Is Recycling Broken?” is still a good listen and likely to spark debate. Many countries, including Indonesia, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and India, are cracking down on how much imported waste they receive. It’s typical for western countries such as the US, Australia, and the UK to send recycling abroad as it’s a cheaper option and helps meet national recycling targets. In theory, it was meant to help both parties, but as you can imagine, in reality, this was not the case. 

Much of the material sent abroad is contaminated with plastic waste and mixed plastic, so it’s not possible to recycle. This waste ends up in local communities instead. It’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? Like everything, though, it’s a complex subject, and the question around should exporting waste be banned is tied up with legislation and economic impact. The key thing to start with, it would appear, is for western countries to take responsibility for their waste and recycling outputs and better education needed around the implications of contamination.

The Good Plastic Company

Good plastic company product
Photo Credit: The Good Plastic Company

Of course, we wanted to mention an example of a business doing some great things in this field, and we couldn’t hope for much better than The Good Plastic Company. They want to contribute to solving the problem of the 400 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually. It’s fair to say they have their work cut out for them, so what are they doing? 

Essentially they produce environmentally friendly panels from recycled plastic. The panels are made from a single type of plastic that can then be recycled again. Their products are beautifully patterned and sold onto businesses to make “modern-looking environmentally-conscious furniture and interior or exterior design elements.” 

If you’re interested in how they look once they’re made into furniture (like we were), you can see them in the Bella Dentro shop and the Student Hotel. As we know, the real danger of plastics lies with how they break down, leaching microplastics into our environment. So an initiative that keeps plastic out of our oceans and landfills is definitely a winner.

What can we do?

As always, it can be difficult to read about environmental problems without feeling completely helpless. But there are small things we can do, which will make a real difference when we all start doing them. A lot of it comes down to changing habits and relevant education. Knowledge, as always, is power, and firstly, it’s worth learning about the different types of plastics.

For example, did you know that only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled, and some compostable plastics can be home compost? You may well find that this information impacts the products you choose to buy. In some areas, you can even go back to more old-fashioned glass milk bottles rather than more supermarket plastic.

We found this guide to packaging symbols really helpful, it’s really important to know that some plastics need to be rinsed so that they don’t contaminate, and some containers should be recycled with their lids as the lids alone are too small to recycle.

In the UK, a lot of how you recycle will come down to the local council. Try popping your postcode into the local authority search to find out more about which types of plastics are recycled. If your local council isn't doing enough, it’s always worth writing to your MP to put pressure on the need for improved services.

By Sam Colyer, BA.

Sam produces our regular #TRVSTLOVES where she seeks out inspiration, news, and ideas from across the globe that both highlight and celebrate how actions can make for social and environmental change.

Sam is passionate about seeking out small businesses that are implementing remarkable and exciting projects to tackle the climate crisis; she enjoys exploring how their innovation will help change the future of our world.
A degree in English Literature from the University of Southampton has given Sam the research expertise to share and contextualize stories around innovative projects, legislation, and changemakers.

Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash
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