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28 September, 2004

Recycling boost - well, okay...

"UK launches £10m recycling effort", as the BBC reports.  Good news, and overdue, but I have two concerns.

The £10m is apparently to be spent on publicising the topic, whereas I'd prefer to see a large proportion of that being invested in subsidising and 'pump-priming' recycling activities.
Here in Lancaster, doorstep collections of recyclable materials exclude plastic bottles, as the council claims there's no market for them (I wonder if they know about China...). Local recycling companies say they receive insufficient quantities of plastic waste to justify their processing costs. The council can't supply enough plastic, so the recyclers can't justify the cost of recycling plastics, so the council doesn't collect plastic, so the recyclers don't receive enough plastic to make a fair profit... circular logic.
However, if the council collected plastics, at a loss, the recyclers might be in a position to accept the increased quantities, thereby creating a market which the council could supply, at an eventual profit. Government subsidies in the loss-making stage could make all the difference.

Secondly, though I welcome any attempt to educate the public about better use of resources, recycling is only part of that, and not necessarily the top priority.
The very acts of collecting, transporting and processing materials use resources, most obviously non-renewable hydrocarbons. The Guardian, in its coverage of the same government announcement, mentions the estimate that every tonne of glass recycled saves more than a tonne of raw materials. Great, but the glass still has to be collected, sorted, transported to recyclers and melted down for its next purpose. Quarrying and refining raw materials are avoided, which is indeed to be applauded, but the remainder of the manufacturing/distribution stages still apply in full.
It would be better to encourage people to:

  • Use only as much as you need, of what you need. Avoid pointless extras and extraneous packaging. For example, if a shop automatically offers carrier bags, decline unless you really need one.
  • If you have to buy something, reuse what you can. I can't stress this enough - it's more important than recycling. If you did accept the carrier bag in the previous example, remember to take it to the shop with you next time, so you won't need a second bag. Why store leftovers in containers bought for the purpose, if you already have ice-cream tubs and jam jars in the house? I'm not absolutely certain whether it still happens, but for decades Norwegian supermarkets and soft drink manufacturers have been reusing plastic bottles - empties are returned to the shops and later reappear on the shelves.
  • If you do need to buy something, and can't reuse it, then recycle.
  • If you need something which can't be reused, nor recycled, question whether you really do need it.
    If you do, that's fine; I'm not suggesting some sort of austere 'right-on' lifestyle (I am not now, nor ever have been, a member or supporter of the Green Party)! I'm only proposing a little thought.

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