Something amazing happened last week.
I was at an event and witnessed a man throw something in the bin. Not just any bin... the wrong bin. Pausing for a second, said man noticed the recycling poster above the bin, retrieved the piece of rubbish - a perfectly good plastic bottle primed for recycling - and re-placed it in the correct bin, sending it firmly on its way to a new life. True story.
I got chills. I dreamt about it that night. (seriously!)
Sounds silly I know, but think about it - how many times have you seen someone doing this? Someone take a moment to consider their actions towards the environment and correct them on the spot? How many times have you looked at the recycling information next to a bin to know if you were doing the right thing?
This example has resonated with me for two reasons: not only has that plastic bottle been saved from landfill, but in a split second, this man went from not caring to caring; a planet-friendly behaviour that I suspect will stay with him for life.
That’s all it takes to be a recycling hero: caring. Because let’s get one thing straight: recycling isn’t difficult. So achieving zero waste recycling isn't either.
Sure, when it comes to the irregular or somewhat weird items, it may become confusing. In fact, just last week I was struggling with swift tags - those tiny pieces of plastic used to attach labels to clothes (“they’re solid plastic so should be ok to recycle, but there’s no information about the type of plastic they’re made from so I’m not sure… and even if they are recyclable, they’re so small - will anyone even see them amongst my recycling materials to separate them? They might easily end up in the ocean!”). But, overall, we should all know the basics.
Regular paper is recyclable. Cardboard too. Glass, of course. And the same goes for aluminium and steel cans. Plastics, on the other hand, can be a little trickier considering how many types of plastics there are. But by now you probably at least know that the Diet Coke bottle is recyclable, while the straw isn’t. Right?
On the same note, napkins, tissues and kitchen roll cannot be recycled (can you picture that Pret napkin full of egg mayo and lipstick coming back as anything else? No, I didn’t think so). And what’s more, those small wooden stirrers you used for your tea also look like they’re done with this world.
So, if some things are such common sense, why do we still see so many people throwing their rubbish anywhere without care? Why can’t everybody be more like the guy at the event?
It’s a journey. At some point, we all learnt that rubbish should go in the bin, not on the floor (well, almost all of us...). Then the next step is to put that rubbish in the correct bin. Taking a moment to check a bin sign can make all the difference. If you’re eager to learn more about recycling, a few minutes online can give you enough answers to make you an expert. And believe me, the planet will truly welcome your efforts for taking that extra second to choose the right bin.
Paraphrasing a famous supermarket slogan, every little helps (please don’t sue me!), and it really does. But we’re long past the time when just one little action was enough. We need big changes. Or, at least, a lot of little ones.
Recycling is a pretty easy and simple way to fight climate change, so why not make it a routine in your life? Along with walking or cycling instead of driving, reducing the amount of meat and dairy you consume, taking a reusable bag with you everywhere, buying local… you know the drill. All these small actions make a difference when everybody does their bit. So recycle that beer can, save the banana peel for waste or food recycling if you have it, and take that extra second to double-check if you’re not sure. It's not difficult and, before you know it, it will be second nature.
Let’s acknowledge how far we’ve come and celebrate our achievements, but let’s also keep moving. The road to zero waste recycling and a sustainable planet is long and we don’t have much time. We might not all be Greta, but we can all be the guy from the event.
If you dispose of empty toners and cartridges responsibly instead of simply throwing them in the general waste: thank you. Would you consider sending your confidential paper to be safely recycled too?
If you’ve gone your first mile: thank you. Would you like to go an extra mile now?