What’s the point of recycling?

It’s a valid question. Why should we recycle rather than send waste to landfill? Why is the Scottish Government moving towards Zero Waste? Why is landfill tax increasing? What benefits does being low waste offer businesses and households? In short: why bother?

Written By Zero Waste Scotland  |  27 Jan 10

Landfill: materials lost forever.

  • The answers to all these questions is the same:
  • Landfill is a graveyard: it represents the final destination for materials dumped there.  This means that any value in those materials is lost forever and new materials have to be found, some of which are non-renewable so will eventually run out.
  • Landfill requires space, which could be used for other purposes.
  • Landfill produces methane as organic materials decompose. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Admittedly some landfill sites capture this methane and convert it to energy. Others burn excess methane, which everyone passing by can see in the form of massive plumes of orange fire which pump CO2 into the atmosphere. Organic waste could easily be recycled through anaerobic digestion or composting.
  • Recycling creates value both in terms of the materials and for businesses involved with it.  Scotland now has more than 450 recycling services for over 80 different types of material. You can search for them using our Business Recycling Directory.
  • Reducing and reusing waste saves money. All businesses can implement waste management strategies to save costs this way. Recycling can also save money depending on the type and volume of materials involved.
  • Packaging is an important way of protecting goods as they reach you. However unnecessary packaging adds weight and bulk to products which can increase transportation costs. Depending on the materials used it can also add to the waste which ends up in landfill. So recyclable, minimal packaging is best. See our Positive Package campaign for more about how suppliers and retailers are minimising the waste they produce.
  • Landfill increases our use of natural resources. We use trees for paper and oil for plastic. Recycling the paper and plastic reduces the demand for these resources which means it oil will last for longer and fewer trees need to be grown. Less mining is needed for metal, which saves the environmental impact of mining (pollution, energy use).
  • Recycling requires less energy than producing materials from scratch.
  • Clean, local energy-from-waste plants could be a solution for our future heating and energy needs. Energy-from-waste no longer means dirty incineration. It can be achieved through anaerobic digestion of organic waste (no smell as it’s all sealed) which produces methane (again, no smell) which is burned just like natural gas to heat water and create steam – just like a coal-fired power plant. Technology allows for close proximity to homes and business with negligible risk to human health.
  • Landfill sites tend to be big and far away from businesses. Recycling sites can be more local. This reduces the travelling distance of waste and reduces both the fuel and time required to handle the waste.
  • Recycling allows a product to live again. 99.9% of the material in an aluminium can is recovered in the recycling process. Glass can theoretically be recycled forever as it doesn’t wear out during the recycling process.

There are lots of reasons to avoid landfill by recycling and, in Scotland, we have plenty of ways to achieve this: whether through collections or local Recycling Centres. More and more people and businesses are recycling. The real question is, are you?

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