FreeWord – Recycling: the Indispensable Road to Sustainability

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Let’s forget about the Covid-19 for a moment and let’s concentrate on recycling!

The world’s waste problem keeps increasing year after year. Only last year, we dumped over 2 billion tons of waste (source). This massive amount of waste is caused mainly by the products’ short lifespan – 99 percent of the stuff we buy is trashed within six months. Hence recycling is much needed. Discarding, littering, and polluting has become a combination of lethal nature. Recycling is the process of breaking down and re-using materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash. The primary phases in recycling are the collection of waste materials, their processing or manufacturing into new products, and the re-purchase of those products, which may then themselves be recycled again. 

We need to see waste for what it really is – a wasted resource. There is no place on our planet anymore for products that are used only briefly and thrown away. We need to ensure planned obsolescence is a thing of the past. It’s time for countries in the world to dramatically step-up recycling rates if we are to save this planet.

–Erik Solheim, Former Head of UN Environment

The Importance of Recycling

The benefits of a well-managed recycling program are limitless, whether it’s a community effort to clean local streets or, on a larger scale, for businesses that help save hundreds of thousands of dollars in waste management. Through the recent advances in recycling technology, there are also more options available than ever. Recycling not only benefits the environment but also has a positive effect on the economy.

Environmental Benefits

  • Prevents millions of tons of material from entering landfills
  • Decreases litter
  • Saves space for waste that cannot be reused
  • Conserves the Earth’s natural resources
  • Reduces the amount of energy without the need to produce new materials –> Reduces the greenhouse gas emissions.

Economic Benefits

  • Properly run recycling programs cost the government, taxpayers, and business owners less money than waste programs
  • Recycling creates millions of jobs – for every one job created in the waste management industry, recycling creates four
  • People can even make money by collecting approved materials to a nearby recycling facility that will pay for the product

The Recycling Process

The recycling process consists of 3 main steps that form a circle or loop. (1) collection of recyclable products, (2) processing recyclable products and turning them into recycled content products, and (3) purchasing recyclable products. All of these three steps are important to close the loop. If one of the steps is missing, the benefits of recycling are significantly reduced.

Firstly, communities and businesses should support recycling collection steps by placing labeled bins in the open for public use or providing bins for home and business owners who have curbside pickup — making it possible for every single one to take a part of the process. The recyclable products are then sent to a materials recovery facility, sorted and made into marketable commodities for sale to processing companies.

In the second step of the recycling process, the recyclables are processed. After cleaning and sorting, the recyclable materials are processed to retrieve the raw materials, and the raw materials are then used to make products with recycled content. All recyclable products must be broken down, melted, or liquefied into basic elements before they can either be made directly into new materials or mixed into virgin resources and made into new materials.

The third step involves purchasing recycled products. This step completes the recycling loop. There is constant development of products that are being manufactured with total or partially recycled content. However, this development should be accelerated.

Plastic Recycling

Methods of processing vary according to different materials. Particularly plastic recycling plays a vital role in preserving the future of our planet. The most significant form of waste appears as a plastic that is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture-resistant, strong, and relatively inexpensive. These qualities have led to our tremendous attraction to plastic, coupled with an undeniable behavior for increased over-consuming.

Nonetheless, there are still the right things happening in the war against plastic waste and hopefully we will start to see more government level action. It is imperative that we recycle all of our plastic waste. Fortunately, a lot of plastic can be remade into new products, and plastic recycling has become more advanced in recent years and is constantly becoming more efficient. The plastic recycling process is illustrated on the chart aside.

Sorting

Sorting is an indispensable part of the collection. The methods of collection may vary from community to community. However, there are four main methods of collection, namely curbside, drop-off centers, buy-back centers, and deposit/refund programs.

​Waste is sorted so that it can be used either as material or utilized in the energy production process. Different materials can be used as raw materials in the manufacturing process of new products. This saves both energy and natural resources. 

​These days, we aim to utilize all generated waste as well as possible. Therefore, it is sorted separately, according to the materials, and the legislation divides the responsibilities of utilizing the different waste types between different operators. Sorting waste may seem complicated, because different types of waste are collected in different ways and at different locations. It is reasonable to collect some waste directly from your housing estate, whereas some waste types are received by regional recycling points. Some of the waste types need to be taken directly to the waste stations, which accept both usable waste and waste that cannot be utilized further.

Source

Blockchain & Recycling

There are a few recycling programs on the blockchain that encourage participation by giving a financial reward in exchange for depositing recyclables like plastic bottles. Also, the technology makes it easier for transparency and tracking the amount of materials recycled, cost, and profit. This evaluates the impact of each participant in the program. Plastic Bank is one project that enables the exchange of old plastic items for money or services in third world countries. Recycle To Coin is an app that provides a token reward for returning plastic containers using automated machines.

Conclusion

The recycling technology itself can’t save us unless we are willing to support it. Whether you are just an individual consumer or are a part of a government or business organization, you have an important role in making recycling a success by sorting your litter and buying sustainable products. Wealth conditions and the presence of cheap raw materials often encourage people to simply dispose of used materials. It’s society’s choice on the first hand of whether and how much is being recycled, which usually depends fundamentally on economic factors. However, as of today, properly run recycling programs cost the government, taxpayers, and business owners less money than waste programs. We should have more foundations that support the promotion of recycling, and the recycling industry by making recycling an indispensable choice to all.


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