Is Recycling Sustainable?

Is Recycling Sustainable?

As the world continues to develop at a rapid rate, it has become increasingly important for us to take care of our environment and for us to sustain it for future generations. One of the first things people think of when looking at how they can contribute to a greener planet is recycling. It makes people feel like they are doing their bit to save the planet, but it is only solving a small part of the problem.


What is recycling?

The dictionary definition of recycling is “the process of collecting and changing old paper, glass, plastic etc so that it can be used again” [1]. There are many benefits that come with recycling, such as it reduces the amount of materials being sent to landfill and reduces the need to extract raw materials from the earth to manufacture new materials resulting in fewer carbon emissions that are being released into the atmosphere [2].

Although recycling may look like a simple way to contribute to a greener environment, it can be quite difficult to do as it is not always easy to understand what can or cannot be recycled. There are so many different types of paper and plastic, that it can cause confusion when it comes to wanting to recycle these. Further still, the actual act of recycling the materials uses a lot of energy. 

Currently, products are being made to throw away; they are dispensable. Yes, manufacturers are beginning to make products that are made of a recyclable material, but all this is doing, is contributing to our throw away behaviour.

However, the problem is a lot bigger than just the material that products are made from. The entire system of the product life cycle needs considering. Recycling is only a small part of this system. Rather than addressing the underlying problem, recycling solves a symptom of the system. 


What is the whole system?

The whole system consists of extracting raw materials, transporting them, using them to manufacture product, packaging, shipping, delivery, advertising and finally, disposal. Most manufacturers are concerned about their customers and providing a product which is optimised for high performance and low cost. They do not consider the cost to the environment at any stage of the system.

To solve the whole problem, we need to be creating products which are made to be repairable. By repairing products for reuse, we are considering the environment at all parts of the system, as less products will need to be made brand-new.

In conclusion, recycling may look like it is solving our environmental problems, but it is simply solving a symptom; it is not a sustainable way to help our planet. To solve the problem, manufacturers need to make products to repair and reuse, and we need to change our behaviour towards buying and throwing away.