What Will Happen If You Do Not Recycle?

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on March 4, 2010 17 Comments
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Sandra Waldorf asks what happens if we don't recycle

Sandra Waldorf asks what happens if we don't recycle

Sandra wrote to me asking if she could contribute a guest post to the site.

Based in Manchester, Sandra is 27 and has been a concerned environmentalist since as far as she can remember. She tries to purchase items that are made locally, are organic and aren’t tested on animals as well as recycling as much as she can.

Sandra has a strong passion to inspire others in doing good for the world while saving money at the same time!  In her post today, Sandra tells us what she thinks will happen if we don’t recycle. She runs her own site called “hooked on recycling“.

Finite resources

Wondering where’s the harm if we don’t recycle? Eventually, we will run out. Run out of what? I was hoping you would ask that question.

We will eventually run out of natural resources. Look at these aerial photos of forests from twenty years ago and you should see plenty of growth in the wrong direction. We are losing our forests. The problem is that, while products we make with natural resources can, for the most part compost and become part of the natural cycle again, it is taking much longer than we are taking to use it up. We are operating at a net loss.

Landfill waste

We are also going to run out space to hide all our trash. Ever notice how cities make sure that their trash is dumped outside their city limits? They don’t want to see it anymore than you do. Trash dumps smell bad, can be dangerous for children, and might be toxic. We can make Mount Trashmores all we want but I’m still wondering how safe is that thing? Considering what people throw out, I’m not sure I’d want to walk around on top of it. What about living on top of it?

Products made with limited natural resources will eventually cost more. Imagine being in the movie “Waterworld” and wanting a smoke. It will be that bad. Okay, you don’t have to want to smoke to be in that movie and still cry.

Pollution

We’ll have more pollution. We need to be careful about how we recycle to make sure we don’t use wasteful practices to recycle. It stands to reason that if we have a product closer to what we want (i.e. used paper, glass, or plastic), that it should take less energy and pollution to clean up for reuse.

Packaging

If you don’t recycle, you won’t notice how much you’re saving from the trash dump and how much you are throwing away everyday. This helps you build an awareness of trash in general and what you’re throwing out. Just noticing packaging helps you to be a more informed consumer. You might decide to buy or advocate for products with less packaging. You may decide to buy products that are eco-packaged to cut down on waste.

Natural habitats

We are going to destroy more habitats that in turn can affect wildlife. Maybe you will not miss a particular bird or moth but think of the big picture. What trend are we following? One that protects more and more animals on earth or one where we are continuing to use up every thing in our path?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (17)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Great to see Sandra taking up the recycling banner for the younger generation. This is a big issue with so many aspects and promoting best practice is essential. Enthusiasts take the lead as always. There is not even a consensus on the best type. I have had both source-separated and commingled types and prefer the latter simply because the volumes collected, and householder participation, are far higher, though quality is an issue, at mrfs.

    Incentivised recycling will draw in the uncommitted with a financial reward for good practice, hopefully reducing the vocal opposition of many.

    The range of recyclables is incomplete with spotlessly clean tinfoil waste a prominent issue. People collect it and are looking for recycling opportunities. This may come down to individual or community efforts since other agencies are lacking enthusiasm for the easily reprocessed metal.

  2. Jane says:

    Alu foil is often included in the food and drinks cans contract (and aerosols (not paint)). Bring bank standard signage doesn’t reflect this. Check out your LA again.

  3. magdalena says:

    I guess even those of us who regularly recycle forget that there is still a net loss – we can’t recycle old newspapers back into trees, just into more newspapers. So actually consuming less is still necessary, no matter how good recycling is. I can’t actually get to zero consumption, but zero waste seems to be a possibility, doesn’t it? The more we become aware of packaging and consumption, thel ess we may need to buy.

  4. John Costigane says:

    @Jane: The facts of my earlier comment are true for my county and many others when you consider the aluminium recycling rate is only 40%. This lamentable figure and the low targets for future years eg 41% next year, 42% the year after, show the real situation. There is of course unrecoverable material in plastic/aluminium combinations eg plastic milk bottle seals and medicine bubble packs. This type should be ended as soon as possible and TetraPak has eliminated the first mentioned item, using a Zero Waste Alternative for consumers.

    The problem is the blame game, a common theme in recycling involving supermarkets, councils & householders and suppliers. The aluminium industry wants councils to take the lead while minimising their efforts when all sides need to act. LetsRecycle News is a good source for all recycling matters and recent statistics, with projections, show the details.

  5. Tyler says:

    While recycling is a great effort, all we know for certain is that we’re sorting it out when we put it curbside. Unfortunately it doesn’t mean the material is being recycled, even if it’s free of food debris and has a high market value. Bummer, but it’s true.

    My suggestion is to work on taking your minimized trash and turning it into art. My garbage is basically nothing more than plastic wrapping (which I now collect in my basement, for what purpose I don’t know yet). My favorite pasttime is walking around the city and looking through other people’s trash and taking out stuff that would be cool to have in my house…paint it, glue it to other stuff, nail it on the wall. Floppy discs make great beer coasters. Fixing furniture and adding some paint is a fun experiment: put it back on the street that night and see if it’s still there the next morning. Get creative, give your friends gifts made out of who knows what. I warn you, it’s addictive!

  6. Jane says:

    @John Costigane: As a nation of readymeal eaters there must be a lot of aluminium food trays which can be recycled but aren’t. If you have a dishwasher it is really easy to just add the dish as well as your plates and if you don’t (like me) they just get washed in the sink with the pans and plates. We are not great readymeal eaters but for the occasional pie and the ones recently although not totally waste-free have been very good – foil dish, small cardboard sleeve and little piece of film. Just that film needs improvement on.

    Perhaps you could ask your County whether they will add clean aluminium foil to their bring banks. I would just hate for you to be thinking you were unable to recycle the foil when the problem was that your LA had just failed to advertise the fact that you can.

  7. Jane says:

    @Tyler: Recycling is a pain when there is a lot. Reduce the amount and it is just so much easier!

  8. John Costigane says:

    @Jane: I too avoid ready meals like the plague due to their waste impact not forgetting the sugar, fat and salt content.

    As for my previous comments, I am fully aware of local recycling and have complained often enough before the commingled collection started. What is your view of the 40% recycling figure for aluminium foil? Does it suggest to you that such recycling is countrywide?

    Other items like aerosols, which need processing to remove hazardous content, used cooking oil and polythene are also missing from recycling here but some patience is required since the commingled was a recent positive change. Avoiding aerosols is possible in some cases. Lush provide unpackaged alternatives .

  9. Jane says:

    @John Costigane: We have clean aluminium in our green box kerbside collection and also household aerosols (I guess they mean deodorant and polish but we don’t use any). These can also go in the bring banks but the signage on the bring banks is a standard one and doesn’t advertise the fact. What a waste of good advertising space!

    I think you’ll find a lot of places have clean aluminium in their collections. Whether people have checked and realise this or not is another problem. I’m told that the recycling rate goes up considerably every time the Council sends the pamphlets out/does door-to-door visiting (this can be financed by WRAP but only works if the people sent out know the service!!! – and have a way of communicating back to you if they can’t answer on the spot).

    Hang on in there they are bound to add aluminium sometime soon I’d have thought. There was info on more packaging changes to come last summer on letsrecycle.com.

  10. Poppy says:

    @John Costigane:

    That reminds me John – in conversation our local council recycling officer said that we can add aerosols to our collections :) It’ll be interesting to see if this information has been filtered down to the frontline staff. ;)

  11. Ben says:

    Drinks cans, which are often bought and consumed away from home where recycling facilities are normally not available may be the reason why quite a lot of aluminium is still going to landfill. However, this is improving as I’ve noticed some city centre parks now have recycling bins that accept drinks cans, paper and plastic bottles.

  12. Jane says:

    Lazy people put them in their office bins. You don’t have office recycling? Why not!!

  13. Jane says:

    @John Costigane: Alupro have been recycling cans for Africa (buying fruit trees) and there are cash for cans schemes – so you can support your favourite charity etc. Metal prices are rising again I believe. Alupro have updated their site since I last looked and there is more about new recycling initiatives for aluminium. http://www.alupro.org.uk

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: Hi John, I agree that incentivising recycling is the way forward. I can’t remember if I mentioned at Paul Connett’s talk of a scheme in Italy I believe where once a week someone from their council visited a house at random. If the household had done their recycling correctly, they were given £1000 on the spot. Recycling rates soared as you might expect!
    I hope you manage to get some foil recycling going; I know you have mentioned this in the past as an issue in your area.

    @magdalena: Absolutely agree, Magdelena and this is something we promote as much as possible on the site. We have to incorporate all 3 R’s, using recycling as the last option.

    @Tyler: Nice idea for a few pieces, Tyler, but it’s not a long term solution for me, personally. There are only so many coasters and wall hangings I can take, certainly those made from recycled materials! Lovely creative thing to do, though. I’d rather stop things at source where possible.

    @Ben: Ben, it’s good to see more recycling facilities ‘on the go’ for aluminium drinks cans. In my limited knowledge, it’s one of the most valuable recyclates…

  15. Susan says:

    A very interesting book which presents some eye-opening information on recycling is Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough. While most of us are genuinely eager to do what we can to help the environment, jumping on a bandwagon without having all of the facts can be dangerous. As an example, some of us may be willing to pay a little extra to purchase an item such a rug made from recycled soda bottles, however, if you were informed that the fibers from the rug may easily slough off during regular use, become air born and potentially lead to asthma, allergies or even cancer would one then be a willing to purchase the rug? How about letting toddlers crawl around on it? The fact is the plastic from which the soda bottles was made was never intended to be use as a rug. This is but one example and one consideration.
    Much of the materials which are put out for recycling are never recycled and much of the material is shipped half-way around the world before it is recycled. How good for the environment can that be?
    I guess it is important to remember that recycling is definitely the third R. Focus on reduction and reuse is certainly more desirable.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @Susan: Hi Susan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We agree that the three Rs must be carried out in that order; with recycling coming at the end of the chain.
    I’ve heard several good reports on this book; I think it’s time for me to borrow it from the library :)

  17. Teresa says:

    When I was growing up in the 1970’s door step recycling as we have today didn’t exist as there wasn’t the technology to make paper from waste paper and plastic from plastic bottles. On the other hand we didn’t throw out much as more people cooked from scratch and there was less packaging. Milk was delivered in glass bottles to our front doors or we could buy it in the same glass bottles from local shops and garages and we were expected to wash them out and return them. Pop bottles were returnable in return for a few pennies deposit until Cadbury’s-Sweppes stopped this in the early seventies and few people drank soft drinks from cans. When it came to beer however they did but you could buy large cans of beer to take to parties rather than sets of four 500ml cans.

    We bought newspapers instead of having a 24/7 news channel and many people still had coal fires and so would save them up for fuelling their fires. We had central heating and gas fires so we threw out our newspapers but also used them to wrap rubbish to be thrown straight into our dustbin as we didn’t use black plastic sacks.

    And we still had the rag and bone man calling round every now and then.

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