Why We Need To Change Our Recycling Habits
In the modern era, efficiency is key, and anything that takes longer than the average attention span will most likely be discarded. Whilst that can be a good thing that keeps developers on their toes and progresses technology massively, laziness can be destroying the planet.
Many people have taken to the idea of “single stream recycling”, in which they pour all their recyclables into one bin under the impression it can be sorted out without the need for multiple recycling bins. The reality of this is that some of the recyclables become contaminated, 25 percent being too contaminated for recycling at all, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association.
Though proper organisation in this can lead to more materials being recycled properly, the cost is far too much of a drawback to make it a convenient option.
Only a decade ago, the amount of contaminated waste was only 7 percent, and while this is in part due to China not taking our recyclable waste anymore, people still don’t exactly know (or don’t care) what can and can’t be recycled.
The growth and contamination of Single Stream Recycling
We can use the US as an example. From 2005 – 2014, the Single Stream system went from 29 to 80 percent of all recycling within American communities, based on a survey from the American Forest and Paper Association. Along with that, A survey from Harris Poll made in October of 2018 reported that 66 percent of people wouldn’t recycle if it wasn’t easy to do.
The biggest problem seems to be people not knowing what actually can be recycled. Reports from the National Waste and Recycling Association show that many people place batteries, electronics and similar items within the recycling. Whilst these items can be recycled, it is through special drop-off procedures and not through the home recycling bin.
It also doesn’t help that the handling of the Single Stream system in general leads to this becoming even worse. The waste is squashed together and bounces around in the lorry, mixing them together and damaging each other. Knives and syringes don’t mix.
This causes further problems when the recycling is brought to the sorting facilities. The machines there can’t detect subtle differences between the same kind of recycling when sorting them, such as a plastic bottle or can that have been flattened in a way to make it feel similar (to a machine) to a piece of paper. This will lead to the recyclables being mixed with other materials when processed and causing problems.
Newer materials do also play a part in this too. New types of plastics can clog up recycling machines, and the cardboard boxes from Amazon can play a part due to the makeup of the packaging, with tapes and glues contaminating the bunch.
This problem with contamination is what could lead to the fall of Single Stream. In 2002, a study compared five different recycling methods in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA and showed Single Stream to lose the most recyclable material when it came to the processing stage.
That said, whilst Single Stream leads to more recycling being collected, with a 20 percent increase, it leads to a far lower amount leaving the factory as recyclable materials with a net decrease of 12 percent.
A 2004 report from the American Forest and Paper Association showed that Single Stream recycling only increased the net tonnage of paper recycled by 1-3 percent and a 2008 British study showed that the same percentage could be acquired from a system of separating papers from containers, in what would be a “dual stream” system.
Why People Use Single Stream
We’ve only explained the negative side of this, so we feel the need to clarify why it is a popular method, and some of the general pros that make it a viable option.
According to some such as Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ commodities research analyst Bernie Lee, it can be more cost-effective for those collecting the waste as it requires less staff to operate fewer trucks and get things done more efficiently. This frees up a lot of funds for more staff to collect and process this waste.
However, this also requires finding someone willing to buy materials that carry the risk of contamination. China was this someone, until they placed restrictions on what types of materials they accept from foreign nations, leaving us with a lot more waste than we can realistically deal with.
That said, it seems like the popularity of single stream is dying. The state of Florida signed a contract with the local Waste Management company in 2002 in which the state was paid $10 for each ton of waste offered to single stream recycling, though immediately decided to go with a dual stream system when the renewal of the single stream contract in 2018 would’ve led to Florida paying the company $85 per ton.
Several other communities have shifted away from single stream recycling, partly due to China’s ban on foreign waste. As well as this, we’re now enforcing the single stream systems we have by putting strict penalties in place, including large fines for not sorting the recyclables properly.
What This Means For Britain
As we’ve mentioned, China’s ban on waste including ours has and will lead to major changes for the UK’s policies on plastics. Most plastic after this ban have been dumped into sites on various foreign countries such as Turkey and Malaysia. Though this has been common since 2002, China’s new laws have led to this becoming a bigger problem for the other countries involved.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has shown concern over the Environmental Agency not having strong enough of a control to avoid the exports being contaminated through this, with 11 million tons of packaging being produced by British households annually and only 64% of these being recycled.
Head of NAO, Sir Amyas Morse, has said that a tighter grip is required when it comes to control over packaging recycling when it comes to tackling the UK’s problems with contamination.
As well as this, they’ve also described Britain’s recycling system as “vulnerable to fraud and abuse, overly reliant on recycling targets, (it) does not incentivise firms to use less packaging, and is too complex to properly enforce.”
More than ever, I feel like it could be time for an overhaul. Leaving the EU could be the perfect chance for this.
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