At the moment, many people are just throwing away lots of stuff into their weekly trash. Before deciding to become low waste, I had found out about the recycling programs and bins. What I didn’t know was what exactly to recycle. I thought recycling was easy and just simple enough that anything clean could go in. Nope, that’s not it people. In order to recycle responsibly in the UK you need to check the recycling bin itself, it should specify the contents.

What can we put in the mixed recycling?

For starters, mixed recycling is usually household. You can put in glass, plastic, paper and card, as well as cans, foil, cartons and aerosols. However, the plastics are bottles, tubs, trays and containers. In the recycling bag don’t include clothes and textiles, nappies, used wipes or baby wipes, plastic film and plastic bags, food, polystyrene and crisp packets.

What happens to the recycling?

So far not many consumers actually know where their recycling ends up. I can tell you that 78 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year worldwide and and only 14% of that is collected for recycling and then even less than that 2% is the final amount actually being recycled. Of the rest of the plastic, 14% gets burnt, 40% goes to landfill, and then 1/3 of all plastic packaging ends up in the environment.

The recycling we put away goes to a centre where it is sorted before supposedly getting a new life. Once all the recycling is categorized, then they are pressed into cubes of just under a ton.

Why is recycling plastic so difficult?

At the top of the chain, we find that recycling is easy done with lots of research, but not many people are educated on the matter. All waste bins are more common than recycling bins. Many people living in flats are currently unable to be supplied recycling or compost bags. This means that many people don’t even get the opportunity to recycle.

Next, we come to the people who can recycle, they sometimes put non recyclable packaging into the recycling. In addition, frequently people place recyclables into the recycling bins dirty and unclean. If the bags are spoiled with juices and rot, the bags will be deemed invalid. Many recycling bins on the streets on cities especially London, have been found with non recyclables and dirty, contaminated recyclables in assorted bins.

If however the recyclables collected is in great condition, it will be sorted then exported. Once the bales of sorted “reusable waste” is shipped, the exporters are paid the full PRN. They are paid the full PRN no matter the quality or amount of stuff in the bales can actually be processed into new.

Then almost like a bombshell, the biggest recycler decided it would no longer receive waste to recycle. The confirmation that China would stop all imports of foreign trash meant that our recyclables needed to find a new place to be processed. So far places like Thailand and Hong Kong are now going through all of the recyclables. Even then, the amount of trash is breaching capacity for companies.

PRN system

The PRN system or the Packaging Recovery Note system was created to show the rate of recycling. The PRN is also a way for people handling the waste to earn money. The system was great, however there is no transparency of what can be valid recycling. This means that exporting from the UK fully validates the bales of recycling as the fully recyclable even if it isn’t. So the exporters get paid anyway and the bales could still be mixed and not sorted. If and commonly found, the waste is not sorted, the entire effort is wasted as it unrecyclable. Many bales are left unsorted in foreign lands to rot for months and then sent to landfill later on.

Processing all of it in the country of origin like the UK, is much better as it leaves the products sorted and fully recycled into higher quality materials. However when sorting sometimes if lucky only 50% of all of the products can be recycled and so only 50% of the PRN is awarded. This shows how much is unrecyclable. If we exported all of the bales, we are just moving the waste.

What should we do?

Right now there are so many products unable to be recycled and there are also so many that are valid. Recyclables such as plastics holding foods should be washed and dried. I encourage recycling to continue, on the other hand I have come to terms that majority of all the recycling is plastics that are impure. To help save the environment we should educate others on recycling and make the decision to reduce our waste. We can all do this by using less plastic. The truth is that it has many flaws and many products will pollute the environment. If you live in a flat and you can’t recycle try to compost some food so it doesn’t go to landfill and if you don’t want to recycle, use less plastic and save the world from climate change.