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5 disturbing facts about recycling you may not know

Why is waste prevention better than recycling? Lets' sum up some facts we should think of while sorting waste.

For many years, the media, the government and diverse organisations have been motivating us to recycle waste. In the 90s‘, when only a small group of enthusiasts was sorting their home trash, the struggle for the best possible media image of recycling was fully justified. At the same time, the common impression that recycling is the best thing we can do for the environment has been instilled into us. Till today, the vast part of the society still believes that if they sort out plastic waste, somebody will simply make a new product out of it.

Unfortunately, the reality is different. According to PlasticsEurope, the actual recycling rate for plastics sorted out in the EU rarely reaches 40%. Most of it is being burned or landfilled. And from the global point of view, the numbers are even worse.

graph recycling and landfilling rates in EU

(Source: Plasticseurope.org)

Also, more and more people are realizing that recycling is not so much effective and environmental friendly as it seems to be. Lets sum up its disadvantages now a little bit.

1. Recycling is not economic

One example for all – the plastics: First, they have to be sorted, collected and transported (sometimes with a lot of air inside the bottles and packages). Later, the professional sorting lines separate the plastics by colour, material and the actual market value. After being pressed into big blocks, the plastics are offered to the contractors. The current situation is very bad: Since China stopped accepting plastic waste in 2018, the demand has been very low, so the prices have fallen.

If a recycling company finally buys a block of pressed plastics, it is melted down into pellets – bravo, we have got a raw material for new products! But now the sad truth - the price of the pellets can be doubled or tripled in comparison to a newly produced material. Result? Nobody wants to buy the recycled one.

2. Recycling is demanding

Recycling itself is a very demanding process – and we are not talking about waste sorting in households now. We are talking about the energy, resources, time and space used for the process itself. Moreover, recycling is also technologically very complex – similarly to the common industrial production.

3. Recycling produces waste

Although it may appear paradoxical, a lot of emissions, polluted water or hazardous substances are often produced while recycling. A significant part of the plastic waste can’t be used for recycling or further distribution, so it ends up in landfills or it's burned. Even if a recycled product is manufactured, it will probably not be recyclable for a second time, so technically, it is nothing more than another waste.

4. We throw away too much

The global trash production is growing and so are the plastic accumulation zones in the oceans. The microplastics that are constantly released from the plastic waste are contaminating the environment. The newest report of the Ministry of the Environment shows that the Czech yearly waste production is not sinking either. In 2017, every Czech citizen produced over 550 Kg of municipal waste on average. This causes that although we are quite good in sorting waste, the recycling capacities are insufficient.

piles of sorted paper for recycling

(Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash)

5. We can‘t recycle infinitely

Although glass can be theoretically recycled again and again, we can’t do the same with paper or plastics. The quality of the both gets worse with recycling, until they can‘t be recycled anymore.

The bottom line of all this: We can’t simply say that recycling protects the environment. More precisely said, it rather eliminates the existing harms.

What governments, companies but also the households need to focus on today, is precycling. As the range of waste prevention possibilities for each of us is very broad, a few tips for beginners can come in handy. :) You can find some for example in this video:

Here you can see how a proffesional sorting line in Czech Republic works:

(Title picture: Ishan Seefromthesky / Unsplash)

Author: Lucie Jandová

Lucie takes care of MIWA's public relations, communication and social media. She is deeply interested in environmental topics such as circular economy and reuse.

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