Recycling is Not Good Enough, Zero Waste Should be the Goal

Studies show that global consumption has been growing by 1% year on year. Plastic bottles take 450 years to decompose, and some plastics over a millennium. Over 360 million metric tons are produced every year, with 62 million metric tons of that amount produced in Europe alone, and only 9% of that gets recycled. By mid-century, oceans are predicted to have more plastics than fish.

Data from 2015

These are scary statistics, which show that we can’t rely solely on recycling to manage waste. The most desirable way to stop littering the Earth and sustain enough resources for our children’s children is by reducing your total waste.

The Institute of Sustainable Futures has created a waste hierarchy, which summaries how we should prioritise the way we deal with garbage. The first two priorities on the list were avoiding waste in the first place and reusing an item as much as possible. The third advised practice is recycling while recovering and disposing of litter come last.

Recycling is undoubtedly a pivotal practice to implement in each household. However, recycling is a polluting industry, harming the environment, mostly due to its energy consumption. Another downside is the fact that the quality of the material decreases each time it’s being recycled. This implies that the materials can only be recycled a certain number of times until they can no longer be used.

The circular economy is empowered by sustainable brands and proactive consumers. People worldwide try to support this model by buying from environmentally-friendly brands who claim to be using recycled products and other acceptable practices. What happens when these are just claims, and the facts are quite different? 

Big retail names like H&M and Zara, who claim to be using recycled materials and aim to be seen as sustainable payers, were proven to have misleading marketing trends

The Norwegian Consumer Authority has called out H&M for failing to provide precise details about how their attire is more sustainable than other companies’. As a response, the fashion giant has agreed to alter its marketing communication to a more accurate version of their real practices.

More criticism related to relying on recycling is the entitled consumerism phenomenon. People have been made aware of the threat the waste poses to our planet and inherently us. Yet this led some to believe that by integrating recycling in their lifestyles, they could increase their consumption. With only 9% of total waste being recycled globally, this solution in such small amounts is not sustainable in the long run with the continuous rise in consumption.

Albert Shamess, Vancouver’s director of waste management says, “we can’t recycle our way to zero waste”.

Hence, an environmentally-conscious individual will aim to avoid waste at any cost. If you’re unsure about how you can do that, here a few easy habits you could incorporate in your life to play a more active role in saving the planet:

  • Don’t buy plastic bags! Bring instead your own from home. In the UK, most supermarkets raised the cost of plastic bags to encourage consumers to bring their own. Yet, this initiative is still not compelling enough to make everyone susceptible to it.
  • Use a reusable plastic bottle. Today, many water bottles are personalised with a wide range of patterns, colours, and shapes. They are a lot more fun to drink from, in addition to being more ecological.
  • Compost some of your waste. If you have a garden, you could compost eggshells, fruit scraps, or coffee grounds. These will also fertilise your soil naturally. Also, many municipalities provide dedicated containers for organic waste.
  • Use reusable containers, cups, and cutleries.
  • Buy second-hand items and donate some of yours.
  • Buy locally and large quantities to reduce packaging waste, which accounts for 40% of all plastic produced.

Avoiding waste should feel like an impossible life-altering process. Instead, it’s a series of small habits that can easily be incorporated in our daily lives, making a notable difference in the long run. Suppose all of us collectively implemented some of these practices, as opposed to relying on recycling. In that case, the future of planet Earth might just stop looking so gloomy.

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