I am a Recycle Bin! I am not GARBAGE, but might as well be!

I am a RECYCLE BIN.
I am not GARBAGE, but might as well be!

Recycling or biodegrading or composting?
Which is the best current option?

When we talk about recycling, we often are talking about plastic waste recycling – worst culprit being the single-use plastics!Yes plastic waste as it stays with us eternally in on our land, oceans, the sir and in our guts.

According to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), around 80 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced annually and if left unchecked, this is expected to triple by 2050. After a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging is lost to the economy.

Last year the European parliament backed a wide-ranging ban on single plastics and items such as plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery would be banned by 2021, and 90% of plastic bottle recycled by 2025. But what about UK after Brexit? More than 700,000 plastic bottles are thrown away in the UK every day, and if we do not maintain the EU new targets or impose our own after Brexit, we would be grossly negligent and turn UK into a dumping ground for cheap, non-recyclable plastics. More so since countries like China have wised up to the game and stopped accepted recycle waste.  

We are all up in arms against the single-use plastics and rightly so, but, we forget that any kind of plastic waste if not recycled will end up clogging our Planet.

So the question that begs for an answer is:

Recycling or biodegrading or composting, which is the best current option?

Here are some harsh truths about recycling:

  • Recycling is a partial sustainable solution as it involves high usage of energy and resources and hence a net environment cost. John Tierneyexplained in an exhaustive analysis of recycling programs, that recycling is not only costly, but doesn't do much to help the environment.
  • Furthermore, many of the products that we think are ‘recycled’ are actually ‘downcycled’. For example a plastic milk carton can never be recycled into another carton but made into a lower-quality item like plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled again! And, even after recycling, we are still left with bags of trash. Each household produces about 1 tonne of rubbish annually, amounting to about 27 million tonnes for the UK each year.
  • Less than 10% of recyclables plastic containers get to the recycling facility as this is dependent on customers’ behaviour patterns. They need to end in the right bin and not the garbage bag on the way to the landfill!  
  • Even if they do get to the recycling facility success of recycling depends on the facilities capability. Recyclable paper food containers can pose a challenge to the facility because of their polyethylene coating.   \
  • We do not really understand our waste! There are many materials that we do not know if they count as recyclable or not. We try our best to dispose the right type of waste into the right type of recycling bins; but despite all the work into raising awareness about waste and its environmental impact, has anyone seen happens next after the bins are collected and the waste processed?
  • If the recyclable waste does not get into the right bin, it will end up in the landfill! Bottles that have the wrong type of plastic, or a tiny bit of drink residue, are likely to be rejected as well. 
  • The requirements and needs of the local authority’s recycling system are too daunting for one to understand and familiarise oneself with. Furthermore, each council has its own requirement as there is no standardisation. Hence incorrect recycling behaviour is common.
  • Recycling labels are not standardised and majority of the recycled items are not labelled properly. Recycling information is confusing and at times conflicting and hence incorrect recycling behaviour is common.
  • The recycling operations itself are not environmentally friendly as they involve more trucks on the road and composting facilities have resulted in nauseating odours and pests. Furthermore, the prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oilprices and reduced overseas demand.

No doubt, recycling helps the environment, if done correctly and the momentum is maintained.  The reality is that the survival of the recycling movement depends on continual subsidies, sermons and policing. Furthermore, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation recycling is an ‘outer circle’ of the circular economy and requires more energy input than the ‘inner cycle’ of repair, reuse and remanufacture.

What about Biodegrading and Composting?

If recycling is defined as the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects with the aim of extracting the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste, then biodegradable and compostable products are a viable sustainable alternatives.  A biodegradable product that breaks down quickly and results in a by-product that is rich in minerals and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and hence is ideal for gardening and farming.

Unlike the so called ‘recyclable’ foodware that cannot be recycled when they are contaminate with food scraps, biodegradable and compostable foodware can be disposed off as green waste  to disintegrate into rich, non-toxic humus for use as fertilizers.

According to UK Organic Recycling Group 4.6 million tonnes of packaging is disposed of in the UK every year. Compostable packaging has the potential to reduce significantly the amount of waste sent to landfill.

It is still not all plain sailing as there is confusion amongst the public and the biowaste management industry with what is and is not compostable. There is a need for educating the public and industry about what packaging and plastic products can and cannot be composted. 

To mitigate the composting problem to some degree, element Packaging has introduce not only biodegradable and compostable but also home compostable foodware. The end process is made all the more easy with the option of home composting.