We might not all be living zero waste lives or have a reusable coffee cup, but there’s one thing that unites most of us in the fight to save our environment and that’s recycling. No matter where you live in the UK, your household will have some sort of recycling system that involves a different coloured bin and probably a late-night rush to get everything sorted for next days collection.
However, with stories of shipping waste overseas and the simple fact that plastic lasts forever, is recycling really worth it? Or is there a new kid on the block...hello refilling! Let’s take a took.
Why do we recycle?
Recycling is a greener way to manage our waste because rather than viewing waste as rubbish, by recycling it we can transform our refuse into valuable materials that gain second, third and fourth lives. It reduces the need to harvest virgin materials, which in turn helps to keep habitats intact and cuts down the carbon emissions produced.
It would take a lot more energy to extract new materials from the earth than it does to use some old ones. If you look at the numbers, the benefits to the planet of recycling are clear. Recycling aluminium cans saves 95 percent of the energy needed to make new ones from raw materials. Recycling paper saves about 60 percent. Recycling plastic and glass saves one third of the energy compared to using new materials.
Even when you factor in the carbon involved in taking an aluminium can from the recycling bin to a new product, the energy savings are still huge.
So, what’s the problem with recycling?
The truth is humans have been recycling for centuries. In medieval times, blacksmiths made armour from scrap metal. Similarly, in World War II scrap metal was used to make tanks and women’s nylons were used to make parachutes. However, it was in the 70s when our attention turned to household waste. And this is where recycling became a little more tricky.
You might not know this - but if you chuck your dirt yoghurt pot or greasy pizza box in the recycling, there’s a good chance it will end up in landfill. Recycling household waste is far more complex because it opens the system up to contamination from food wastes, oils, liquids and non-recyclables. This means the authorities can’t sell the materials to be remade into new products.
And it’s confusing! Household recycling requires organisation on a vast scale. In the UK alone, Recycle Now lists 28 different recycling labels.
But it’s not just consumers that are struggling. The sheer amount of waste that we’re producing is becoming a lot harder for local authorities, and their quickly ageing systems, to deal with. Plus, with new materials flooding the waste systems, fast innovation is needed now more than ever.
It’s now a known fact that a lot of the UK’s recycling waste is shipped to other countries across the world. Many of them buy these materials but they’ll only buy them if they’re sorted correctly. These countries don’t want to be the worlds dumping ground, and rightly so! This means the right infrastructure is essential for us to produce higher quality materials.
The big offender: recycling in the bathroom
The start of household recycling also coincided with brand new material flooding the market: plastic. Our homes were filled with all kinds of plastic products, but especially our bathrooms.
The plastic problem in the bathroom is far greater than in the kitchen. If you read our blog post on the dirty side of the bathroom, you’ll know that around 30,000 tonnes of plastic waste come from our bathrooms. That’s why it’s our mission to banish single-use plastic from your morning routine. Although so many bathroom products are made of plastic, many are made of dual materials, which are difficult to recycle.
That’s why our cases are made entirely from one material so that if you need to, they’re much easier to recycle. Ultimately, we want to take away the whole faff of picking the plastic out of your bathroom bin for recycling and make doing your bit easier.
Ok then, what can’t be recycled?
If you thought recycling was confusing, you were right. So here’s a list of things that can’t be recycled.
Deodorant - unless your refill ;-)
Toothpaste (and other squeezable tubes)
Drinking glasses and Pyrex glassware
Cotton wool and makeup removal pads
Paper straws - yes, even these!
Is recycling worth it?
In short: yes. A process that uses 75% less energy to make a plastic bottle from recycled plastic is going to be better than using virgin materials. It’s why we choose to use recycled or waste materials in pretty much all of our products. Our cases are made with a mix of virgin and recycled plastic so it’s durable and resourceful. While our refills are made from waste sugar cane pulp. Plus, our super fly new washbag is made from recycled materials inside and out!
But (you knew there was a but coming) recycling needs to become more effective. This means more coordination in the nationwide strategy to manage waste so that people have a better understanding of what they can recycle and proper recycling infrastructure. This is at the heart of effective recycling because if items are rejected, they’ll be hauled elsewhere and enter the waste stream anyway.
Why refill is the new recycle
However, it’s important to remember that we can’t recycle our way out of the climate crisis. While experts recognise the importance of recycling in our approach to dealing with it, it’s just one tool in the toolbox. Ultimately, we should all focus on using less and reusing more. Plus, changing the way we view our waste; not as rubbish but as a valuable resource. It’s not the end of something, but a new beginning.
It can be as simple as switching up your deodorant to a refillable one. We’ve already prevented over 3600 years worth of single use plastic deodorants.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to join the refill revolution today?