Feb 01, 2022

What’s the point of recycling?

Words by Louise Frith

What’s the point of recycling? Are you just wasting your time rinsing out all those plastic bottles and flattening those cardboard boxes?!

If you heard Boris Johnson’s remarks on recycling last year, you might be forgiven for wondering if recycling is any good for the planet.

In response to a question about getting people to use less plastic, the PM said:

“The issue with plastics is that recycling isn’t the answer, recycling doesn’t begin to address the problem… The recycling thing is a red herring… If people think that we can recycle our way out of the problem, they’re making a huge mistake.”

Of course, plastic pollution is a huge problem and we do have to minimise plastic waste and produce less. The problem is that Boris Johnson gave the impression that recycling doesn’t work at all. Not a good look. And not true!

As our own Prime Minister didn’t do a great job at promoting UK-based recycling, First Mile is here to set the record straight with 7 reminders of the benefits of recycling...



1. Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions

Nearly a third of greenhouse gases (GHG) pumped into the atmosphere each year come from manufacturing new products: cement, steel and plastic make up 31% of the total global GHG.

How does recycling help? It reduces the need to manufacture new products, which means it reduces carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.

2. Recycling slows virgin resource extraction

When we recycle, we convert used materials into new products. This means we don’t use up additional natural resources (e.g., through mining and forestry). And since that new resource extraction is responsible for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions, it's another win for recycling!

3. Recycling saves biodiversity

The process of extracting new materials from the planet is responsible for over 80% of biodiversity loss. By recycling, we are reducing the disruption and damage that manufacturing inflicts on the environment.

4. Recycling uses less energy than producing something new

It takes a lot of energy to create those new materials. Recycling saves this energy by removing the need to create materials from scratch.

In fact, recycling in the United Kingdom is estimated to save over 18 million tonnes of CO² per year. Take steel production as an example, which when produced from recycled material saves 75% of the energy needed to produce steel from virgin material.

5. Recycling eliminates landfill

Stuff that’s recycled doesn’t go to landfill. UK landfills produce roughly 25% of our methane emissions, which contribute to global warming. So, the more we can keep out of landfill, the better. (Side note - even First Mile's general rubbish collection is zero-to-landfill)

6. Recycling = valuable stuff

Our recycling contains lots of valuable materials. For example, a tonne of mobile phones carries 100 times more gold than a tonne of gold ore. And roughly 7% of the world’s gold is estimated to be contained in e-waste. Recycling rather than chucking means that these can be recouped and used once again.

7. Recycling gets us a step closer to a circular economy

We need to move to a circular economy so that we can reduce greenhouse gases and reach net zero. Recycling is a component of this system, although really it should be considered after other alternatives for re-use, remanufacture or repair (the waste hierarchy). That's the dream...

So, can recycling help save the planet?

In short...yes!

We should be recycling more, not less.

At First Mile, we’re on a mission to eradicate waste by making it possible to recycle everything. Using one of our 25+ services makes recycling easy for businesses.

Recycling is a key stepping stone to reaching a zero-waste world by reducing our carbon impact and the constant need for ‘new’.

So the next time you hear someone questioning what the point of recycling is you'll be armed with some killer comebacks!

By Louise Frith

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