It’s a fashion now to talk about recycling as if it’s the ultimate reincarnation of divinity, a superhero. Most of us have not looked into the real meaning of recycling and for us converting it into something else is same as recycling. A true meaning of recycling is to use the waste, without processing and using resources, in exactly the same way. For example a plastic bottle of body lotion should be taken and filled up again. Is this possible? Has anyone seen this happening? The answer is no because 90% waste around us cannot be recycled. It’s been developed in this manner to keep multiple industries in the business at the same time.
Is true recycling possible ? Some degree of recycling is possible but involves usage of energy which is much more than amount needed to generate new product even if one overlooks the release of pollutants along the way. The biggest reason recycling hurts the environment is not technical but psychological. Recycling’s main impact is to convince us that it’s okay to be wasteful in other areas, because we make up for it through recycling. It encourages consumption, rather than pointing out ways to reducing it.
With the municipal corporations’ sword hanging over our heads we are diligently segregating waste into dry and wet but 99% going into dry waste is not recyclable. Cling wraps, fusion material, polystyrene to name a few. Here are some recycling failures which hurt environment much more.
Are Plastics recyclable- Out of seven different types of plastics available only two can be recycled to an extent rest all go into landfills. Time and effort to sort out at home and then at plants are a waste.
Recycling plastic bags cost several times more than the cost of recycled bags. Then comes a very high probability of contamination. Not all plastics are BPA free and during sorting some of it may contaminate the non-BPA one. Chemicals kept in plastics, used syringes, paint containers all are contaminated and can cause contamination of recycled end product.
FMCG packaging is not recycled due to fear of fungal, bacterial and salmonella contamination. Cleaning and sterilizing them cost a lot even if they are not made of plastic. The hygiene was the reason of stopping traditional milk and soda glass bottles . Plastic was cheaper than the sterilization cost.
Then comes the so called artistic recycling where one cuts of bottles/boxes to make some flower pot or pen stand. My kid watches a whole lot of such programs but they are a real waste of time. They involve further use of chemicals like glues, tapes paints and also generate small chips and pieces of plastic which has been cut out to give it the desired look.
Not to forget finite life of plastics used in FMCG packaging. Within few months such arty adventures become brittle and break into thousands of small fragments which can never be recycled. It happened to my efforts at recycling plastic containers and bottles as flower pots. This is called weathering of plastics.
The big question is can plastic be recycled forever? What happens after the recycled product wears out? One has to think beyond single recycling.
Metal recycling has contamination hazard-
We do see lot of advert on motor cycles being made from scarp of our first aircraft carrier. Well it’s one of a kind use but contamination is one of the biggest problems of the recycling industry even in non-plastic recycling. Chances of a lead paint can getting recycled as a soda can is quite high. Hundreds of buildings in Taiwan made from recycled steel have been giving people gamma radiation poisoning and was detected after a long time.
Over consumption has increased the demand for products which recycling cannot keep up.. Aluminum is especially difficult, since demand for it grows more than ten percent every year. That means we’re still going to mine for new aluminum, especially since recycled aluminum isn’t suitable for certain things. For example, recycled soda cans can’t give the quality needed to build an airplane, or even to use in electronic circuits
Polluting Hazard- The recycling process itself produces a lot of pollutants. Starting from the fossil fuel used by pickup trucks to the air and water pollutants released by recycling plants. The more we generate the more of such infrastructure will be needed even if we are recycling all.
When paper is recycled, it’s all mixed together into a pulp. That pulp is washed, cleaned, and then pressed into new paper sheets. During that process, wastes like paper fibers, inks, cleaning chemicals, and dyes are filtered out into a huge paper sludge. The sludge is then either burned or sent to a landfill, where it can leach dozens of toxic chemicals and heavy metals into groundwater.
Glass can be reused forever but recycling is more expensive than getting a pristine one.
When recycling is only there for the 10% waste we need to cut down on our waste generation. Recycling is not the answer its only Reducing and Reusing. There should be only 2 R’s for sustainability.
Reduce and Reuse