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Will we recycle our way out of a plastic crisis?

By June 22, 2019Blog, Learn

With the current governmental push for a deposit return scheme, and a continuous reliance on recycling as the answer to our plastic consumption, should we really be focussing all our energies on more efficient recycling, and higher recycling rates? Or does the solution lie elsewhere?

At many events we go to as part of Kids Against Plastic, regardless of the nature or attendees, we often get told “well, I recycle my plastic!”, or that items like plastic bottles are much better than straws because they can be recycled more.

However, contrary to what we are led to believe, plastic is currently not widely properly recycled – many of the bottles, food containers or throwaway plastic items that we put in the bin are often made into other materials of less worth (such as fleeces or carpets). This means that more materials are required to replace the plastic used just the day before, and the use of plastic in garments brings along another whole range of issues (such as microfibre pollution, released from our clothing).

Plus, plastic that is too thin (such a cling film) has to be incinerated or put to landfill, as the plastic is just too low grade to warrant making it into new products. The same goes for packaging that has been ‘contaminated’ with food or drink.

So in reality, we can never really use recycling as an excuse for our consumeristic habits and excessive plastic usage. With regards to recycling, it doesn’t matter what material you use – sustaining a throwaway, materialistic consumer lifestyle without harming the planet in some way is practically impossible. We can try to deal with our plastic waste through deposit return schemes, or point the finger at inefficient recycling as the root cause of this plastic crisis, but recycling will never be the solution – that lies in reduction in production and use of plastic.

Instead of turning to recycling as the answer to all our plastic problems, let’s instead look at our individual habits.

Let’s use reusable items that aren’t used for 5 minutes before being discarded.

Let’s lobby our politicians for concrete legislation to bring in clear plastic reduction targets – and soon.

Let’s show the businesses that make our products that we don’t want their plastic packaging, and encourage them to take a look at their own plastic footprint.

It’s a convenient myth that we’re going to recycle our way out of this problem, and it’s one that we can no longer afford to believe.

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