15 February 2017

Have all the easy wins in recycling been achieved?

Individuals, businesses, industry and commerce altogether produce a bewildering amount of rubbish, so much so that it’s quite difficult to comprehend. That old plastic tub, empty cleaning bottles, yard waste, packaging materials, coffee pods, it’s going to landfill. Landfill sites are not only unsightly but they pose huge environmental problems to soil, groundwater, air and wildlife. What are we doing about it?

Have all the easy wins in recycling been achieved already?

In the UK, the average amount of household rubbish is 413 kg per person. But a seemingly impressive statistic released by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, reports that since 2000-2001 the total amount of local authority waste taken to landfill has fallen by 71%.

Whilst those statistics are impressive, it’s those quick wins that might let us take the foot off the gas when there is still more to be done.

Could you imagine the possibility where there is no household waste at all? Could you imagine a world where nothing went to waste? The popularity of recycling and ‘going green’ has had its ups and downs, it’s taken decades. And since the first Earth Day in 1970 waste is now finally becoming a taboo. This culture change is leading to a shift.

The rise of the circular economy

We are all becoming more and more conscious of what we’re putting in our bins and getting better at recycling. This shift is spanning from homes to businesses and leading to the rise of the circular economy. Innovation and technology is allowing us to make, use and dispose resources in a way that allows us to use them for as long as possible and keep them in the loop over and over again rather than going to landfill.

According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), adoption of this circular economy will benefit UK Businesses by up to £23 billion per annum without a heavy outlay. WRAP suggest that the easy wins for recycling have been achieved.

That means we need some serious innovation, serious developments to tackle the root cause and the way we handle waste.

At the moment, no country in the world is  doing that better than Sweden.

Recycling revolution

Did you know that less than 1% of Sweden’s household waste ends up in landfill?

The Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association was founded in 1947 with a vision of “zero waste”. The organisation reports that 32 rubbish incineration plants produce heat for 810,000 households and electricity for 250,000 homes.

How have they done it? Recycling stations can be found within 300 metres of any residential area, Swedes are knowledgeable through campaigns on recycling which starts in the home with everyone, food waste is composted and becomes biogas for vehicles. The list goes on. How can other countries get in on this?

Joining the circular economy

The goal of zero waste requires determination in waste prevention, collecting separate materials diligently and reducing residual waste as much as possible.

It’s going to require massive action and some brands are also joining the revolution. The rise of consumerism, especially around Black Friday, year round sales are contributing to fast fashion. This has never been so eloquently highlighted as it was by Patagonia.

The outdoor apparel brand placed a full-page advert in the New York Times after Black Friday asking customers not to buy their products. The brand urges consumers not to buy what they don’t need and fix what they have through their ‘worn wear’ initiative.

Patagonia strive to make high-quality apparel that lasts. Encouraging you to repair your clothes instead of buying new, saying the best thing you can do for the environment is keep stuff in use for longer.

If it’s broke, fix it

This is a strong message with a double meaning. The message needs to start with consumers, making households more aware of what they are buying and prevent waste in the first place. If something breaks, fix it instead. If something’s finished, can you reuse it? If something can’t be reused, can it be recycled? It’s a habit and a cultural change that is moving forward but there needs to be a radical shift.

It’s then up to brands, businesses and industry to follow through on the message. Patagonia is a striking example and other brands can help, not only interns of disposable fashion but other industries should also encourage recycling, swapping, reusing.

Government, waste authorities and organisations are investing and need to continue advancements in recycling, rubbish to energy and other ways of innovating in this field.

It’s up to everyone to make changes collectively, if not we’ll soon be exporting our rubbish to Sweden.


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