The Importance of Recycling

The Importance of Recycling

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Recycling is the conversion of waste into new materials and objects. It prevents these waste materials from being put into the landfill and allows these materials to be used in a new product. It’s important to ensure that recyclable materials are put into the recycling bin while non-recyclable materials should be thrown away. Recycling centres have to waste time sorting through non-recyclable materials, which in some cases can damage the machines. By the percentage of recyclable materials that are recycled, South Korea is the country with the best rates, with 67.10% being recycled. This is followed by Samoa and Benin. This high recycling rate in South Korea may be related to its recent sustainability efforts to fight against deforestation and wetland destruction, as seen in the $84 billion project run by its government.

What Can Be Recycled?

There is a lot of variation between municipalities as to what can be recycled, and this is based on the recycling program in that region. Recyclable products have recycling symbols located on them (see the image below), but not all regions can recycle all products that have these symbols on them. This is why the symbols have numbers on them indicating which category of recyclable material they are, allowing people to determine whether a certain product is recyclable in their region. Guidelines are available for each municipality’s recycling program, in order to clarify which types of materials are recyclable in that region. Some municipalities have websites or apps that can help determine whether a product can be recycled, such as Toronto’s Waste Wizard site and their TOwaste app. If there are items that you are unsure about, the general guideline is to just throw it out. Items that are not recyclable have to be sorted out at recycling centres, which takes time, and entire bags will be sent to the landfill if they are found to contain too many non-recyclable items. Relatedly, if recyclable materials are put in the blue bin in a non-recyclable bag, this can cause the entire bag to be sent to the landfill. When non-recyclable items are in recycling bins alongside recyclable materials, this is called recycling contamination. When machines try to process non-recyclable materials, this not only costs time but can also cause damage to the machines. An example of recycling contamination is failing to rinse food off containers, which can negatively affect the machines and can cause the container to be rejected from the recycling process.

The Importance of Recycling
Retrieved from: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/g804/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321/

How Much of What Goes Into The Recycling Bin Is Actually Recycled?

Sometimes material is put into the blue bin that cannot be recycled, such as containers that have food scraps on them, or simply materials that are not recyclable in general or in that region. Most objects that are meant to be in recycling bins do get recycled. In Toronto, about 87% of objects that are correctly placed in recycling bins end up getting recycled. Toronto recycles most of its material within Canada, sending 14% of recyclable material to be processed out of the country. This statistic varies between regions, but generally, there is an attempt to increase recycling rates in Ontario, with a 2019 commitment to increase recycling rates by making changes in the recycling program to make recycling more consistent across the province and standardizing which materials are recyclable. These changes were intended to reduce taxpayer spending by transitioning the recycling program to a different model where it is funded and operated by businesses that sell packaging and paper products to consumers.

What are some examples of unique uses for recycled materials?

One unique use of recycled materials is clothing. Plastic can be put through a machine to rework it into a yarn-like material, allowing it to be made into thread for clothing. A startup called Inversa turns the invasive lionfish to create leather, which serves the dual purpose of helping to eradicate the lionfish in the Atlantic and Carribean waters, while also creating clothing. This reduces the waste produced when the lionfish are removed from these areas. This company also uses other invasive species in the same way, specifically Burmese pythons and carp from the Mississippi River.

A remarkably uncommon use of plastic bottles is to use them as material to make yachts. The company Sunreef Yachts incorporates recycled bottles into parts of the structure of their Eco Explorer yacht. While yachts are not exactly a common purchase, this is an interesting way to use up plastic bottles, this unique use may contribute to normalizing the reuse of plastic bottles in all sorts of products.

3D printing is typically done with plastic material, but can be done with biocomposites. Various research has explored the possible use of different substances such as the bioplastic PLA, which is made from agricultural products. As 3D printing becomes increasingly popular, creating alternatives for the typical plastic material is important, as it allows people to be able to choose more ecologically friendly materials in the 3D printing process.

Concluding Thoughts

Increasing recycling rates worldwide is vital in reducing our impact on the world, as it allows us to depend less on new materials from the Earth. Recycling prevents useful materials from going to landfills and helps build a more circular economy.

References

Cavallo, I., & Abdelrahman, A. L. (2024, April 18). How to decode recycling symbols. Good Housekeeping. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/g804/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321/

Doll, S., & Doll, S. (2024, May 13). Sustainability at sea: Sunreef is integrating recycled plastic bottles into solar electric yachts. Electrek. https://electrek.co/2024/05/13/sustainability-at-sea-sunreef-is-integrating-recycled-plastic-bottles-into-solar-electric-yachts/

Giordano, M. (2024, April 22). 16 Best recycled and upcycled clothes (2024): leggings, sneakers, t-shirts. WIRED. https://www.wired.com/gallery/our-favorite-recycled-clothes-and-accessories/

Circular economy – waste and materials. (n.d.). https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/f5670a8d-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/f5670a8d-en

Peterson, B. (2024, May 14). Sustainable fabrics can help fashion rid itself of a waste problem. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/interactive/2024/sustainability-fashion-fabric-biodegradable/

Rodríguez-Fabià, S., & Chinga-Carrasco, G. (2022). Effects of a poly(hydroxyalkanoate) elastomer and kraft pulp fibres on biocomposite properties and three-dimensional (3D) printability of filaments for fused deposition modelling. Journal of Bioresources and Bioproducts, 7(3), 161–172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jobab.2022.03.002

Ontario announces next steps to improve recycling and tackle plastic waste. (n.d.). news.ontario.ca. https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/53338/ontario-announces-next-steps-to-improve-recycling-and-tackle-plastic-waste

Recycling | Environmental Performance Index. (n.d.). https://epi.yale.edu/epi-results/2022/component/rec

Toronto, C. O. (2024, March 27). What goes in the blue bin (Recycling)? City of Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/recycling-organics-garbage/houses/what-goes-in-my-blue-bin/

What is recycling & what to recycle | WM Canada. (n.d.). https://www.wm.com/ca/en/recycle-right/recycling-101

Wikipedia contributors. (2002, August 10). Recycling. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling

About Post Author

Aliyah Knetsch

Aliyah is a fourth year BSc Psychology student at the University of Waterloo, and she is a Research Assistant with EnvironFocus.
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