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Recycling is not a magic bullet

For a long time, the 4Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle have been used to get us to “go green”.

But there are at least 7Rs:

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Repurpose, Rot and Recycle.


Refuse:

Just say No. The best way to reduce the environmental impact of an object is not to create it in the first place. If we do not buy it then they will not produce it.

Reduce:

Buy only want you need. If you are not going to use it do not get it.

Reuse:

Were possible always get stuff that can be reused and reuse it.

Repair:

It an item is repaired then we do not need to get a new one and with do not have to dispose of it. A win win. The repair café movement is important.

Repurpose:

If we no longer need an item for its original purpose that can it be used in some other way and given a new lease of life. The in phrase for this is upcycle but that does not start with an R.

Rot:

When an item gets to the end of its life. If it is properly biodegradable, then we can give it to nature to recycle it. The emphasis is on properly biodegradable. See my earlier article “Is plastic ever really biodegradable?”.

There are two good ways to rot things, first as compost and the other is via biodigesters. Biodigesters have the advantage they produce carbon enteral energy. So if you have the choice, it’s probably better to send to a biodigester.

A not so good way to use Rot as a way of disposal is just to give it to nature to let it handle your waste.  If this is just throwing an apple core away during a walk this is probably OK.  But normally this is littering. But if the item littered is properly biodegradable then is will be less of problem as nature will eventually take care of it.

If you have the choice should you rot or recycle? This choice only applies, I think, to paper and cardboard. If it is good quality, then I think it will best recycled. But, if poor quality or contaminated with food then rot. 

Recycle:

The last on the list


Recycling is not a magic bullet

Many people think if they recycle then they have done their bit for saving the planet. But doing some recycling will not on its own stop the climate crisis. The climate crisis is caused by us putting green houses gases into the atmosphere. In general recycling does reduce the carbon footprint but not by much. There are many things you can do that will reduce your carbon footprint more than by recycling. But you should do them all. See my Climate Breakdown what I can do slides.

Recyclable is a word I hate. Making packaging recyclable will not solve the blue planet problem. The blue planet problem is a problem of littering. If all the plastic now in the oceans had been put in land fill or incinerated, it would not be in the oceans.

To put it simply:

Our Friends at Greenlink have open a new Shop GL2. This shop allows you to refill your wholefoods, toiletries and household cleaning products.

It is at 14 Cowleigh Road, Malvern, WR14 1QD. Select here for a map.

Their Current opening hours are:

  • Tuesday 10 till 7pm
  • Thursday 10 till 5pm
  • Saturday 10 till 4 pm

Why is this important? The plastic pollution highlighted by the Blue Planet TV Program is plastic that was not recycled or incinerated or put in landfill. If it had been it would not be in the oceans. It’s litter. The same applies to litter in Britain. I believe that the only solution it to make sure that packaging is fully biodegradable. But that leads to problem of what to we mean by biodegradable. There is a lot of Greenwash in this area.

Let’s start with a definition.

Biodegradable: capable of being broken down especially into innocuous products by the action of living things such as microorganisms[1]

The problem is that capable does not mean it will breakdown. To quote Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme. “It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down”[2]

If they need to get to 50oC that will also not happen in the British countryside, not even this Year.

Is compostable an alternative term? Again, this may only work at temperatures above ambient. So, I think compostable can be as misleading as biodegradable.

So, what is the alternative. The best solution is to eliminate single use packaging. But this is utopian. So what alternatives are there.

For some uses paper bags are a good solution. Where paper bags do not work there are alternatives which claim to work but the question I ask is do they breakdown in the environment be that the ocean or the countryside, or even the city.   These alternatives include cellophane and “plastic” made from corn or potato starch.

Searching the web finds lots of products but are they really the solution. I do not know. The term “Home Compostable” look promising but I fear it could become greenwash.

Greenpeace have a useful video here on plastic packaging.

For the more technically minded one informative link is The truth about bioplastics by Renee Cho, Earth Institute, Columbia University  from Phys.org

Ian Caldwell

 

Transition Malvern Hills campaign to reduce the use of single use plastic in the Malvern Hills area has a display.  This display is going on tour.  The Dates are:

See plasticfree.transitionmalvernhills.org.uk for the campaign  details.