Go Above and Beyond This Global Recycling Day

Lily Chambers, BLUEPRINT Project Communications Officer 17th March 2022

Contrary to popular belief, recycling isn’t as good for the environment as one might assume. This Global Recycling Day, find out more about why recycling a product is the last resort within a circular economy.  

Person sorting plastic bags
Within a circular economy, recycling is the last resort.

The role of recycling in a circular economy 

A circular economy focusses on creating high-quality products that are built to last. Systems and products are designed to eliminate waste by allowing recovery and reuse of all materials involved.  

Recycling, the process of converting waste items into new materials, remains a preferred option over landfill as it reduces the number of raw materials needed, the amount of energy required for extraction, and it extends a product’s lifespan. There are, however, several environmental issues with recycling, pushing it further down the waste hierarchy. 

Person sorting plastic bottle tops
Still a preferred option than sending to landfill or incineration, recycling is still problematic. 

The problem with recycling 

Whilst recycling has its advantages, it’s still problematic in the world of waste management. Here are some of the environmental issues with recycling: 

  • Recycling an item often decreases its quality and value, thereby increasing the likelihood it will eventually end up in landfill. 

  • Recycling requires a lot of additional energy and resources, so is more damaging to the environment than other circular practices, including reducing and reusing waste. 

  • It’s not often clear if something can be recycled in curbside collections or whether it must be dropped off at a recycling centre. Inconsistency in collections and unclear labelling often means recycling bins are contaminated, and entire bags of waste end up in landfill or incineration. 

  • Many items contain mixed materials which cannot be separated or recycled. Aerosol cans, for example, contain plastic and metal, which are often hard to pull apart. 

  • If items aren’t properly cleaned, they can also contaminate a whole bag of recycled waste, which reduces the chance of any of the other waste being recycled.  

Aerosols contain mixed materials, which makes it hard or even impossible to recycle them.

What you can do instead of recycling 

If you would like to up your game and support a circular economy, consider these other circular practices before recycling or throwing items away:  

  • Buy items that are high-quality and designed with circularity in mind so they can be fixed or donated after use. 

  • Avoid purchasing single-use items. 

  • Reuse your items where possible. 

  • Resell your items on to someone who may need them, or donate them to charity.  

  • Rent products and services instead of buying new, so they can be used by someone else once returned. 

  • Share products where possible. 

  • Refurbish, repurpose, or upcycle items instead of throwing away. 

  • Think about what you need in the first place; avoid panic buying. 

  • Purchase pre-loved items to extend their lifespan.  

Upcycled pallets
Giving a new use to waste products extends their life and uses little to no energy.

The BLUEPRINT to a Circular Economy Project is working to create a model for local authorities within the France Channel England (FCE) region to transition to a circular economy. The project is also engaging with training bodies and households throughout England and France to upskill social enterprises, train individuals and raise awareness about the importance of a circular economy. Find out more about our exciting cross-border project.