“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein. Recycling is a key component of modern waste reduction and is the third component of the "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" waste hierarchy.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. It is an alternative to "conventional" waste disposal that can save material and help lower greenhouse gas emissions (compared to plastic production, for example). Recycling can prevent the waste of potentially useful materials and reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, thereby reducing: energy usage, air pollution (from incineration), and water pollution (from landfilling).
There are some ISO standards related to recycling such as ISO 15270:2008 for plastics waste and ISO 14001:2004 for environmental management control of recycling practice.
“When you put the whole picture together, recycling is the right thing to do.”– Pam Shoemaker, Author
Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, and cardboard, metal, plastic, tires, textiles, and electronics. The composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste—such as food or garden waste—is also considered recycling. Materials to be recycled are either brought to a collection centre or picked up from the curbside, then sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into new materials destined for manufacturing.
The three chasing arrows of the international recycling logo. It is sometimes accompanied by the text "reduce, reuse, and recycle".
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”– Robert Swan, Author
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”– Native American Proverb
In the strictest sense, recycling of a material would produce a fresh supply of the same material—for example, used office paper would be converted into new office paper or used polystyrene foam into new polystyrene. However, this is often difficult or too expensive (compared with producing the same product from raw materials or other sources), so "recycling" of many products or materials involves their reuse in producing different materials (for example, paperboard) instead. Another form of recycling is the salvage of certain materials from complex products, either due to their intrinsic value (such as lead from car batteries, or gold from circuit boards), or due to their hazardous nature (e.g., removal and reuse of mercury from thermometers and thermostats).
Recycling has been a common practice for most of human history, with recorded advocates as far back as Plato in 400 BC. During periods when resources were scarce and hard to come by, archaeological studies of ancient waste dumps show less household waste (such as ash, broken tools, and pottery)—implying more waste was being recycled in the absence of new material.
An American poster from World War II
In pre-industrial times, there is evidence of scrap bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for perpetual reuse. Paper recycling was first recorded in 1031 when Japanese shops sold repulped paper. In Britain dust and ash from wood and coal fires was collected by "dustmen" and downcycled as a base material used in brick making. The main driver for these types of recycling was the economic advantage of obtaining recycled feedstock instead of acquiring virgin material, as well as a lack of public waste removal in ever more densely populated areas. In 1813, Benjamin Law developed the process of turning rags into "shoddy" and "mungo" wool in Batley, Yorkshire. This material combined recycled fibers with virgin wool. The West Yorkshire shoddy industry in towns such as Batley and Dewsbury lasted from the early 19th century to at least 1914.
“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, designed or removed from production.”
– Pete Seeger, Folk Singer & Social Activist
Industrialization spurred demand for affordable materials; aside from rags, ferrous scrap metals were coveted as they were cheaper to acquire than virgin ore. Railroads both purchased and sold scrap metal in the 19th century, and the growing steel and automobile industries purchased scrap in the early 20th century. Many secondary goods were collected, processed and sold by peddlers who scoured dumps and city streets for discarded machinery, pots, pans, and other sources of metal. By World War I, thousands of such peddlers roamed the streets of American cities, taking advantage of market forces to recycle post-consumer materials back into industrial production.
“Buy less, choose well.”
– Vivienne Westwood, Fashion Designer
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”
– Thomas Fuller, Historian
Beverage bottles were recycled with a refundable deposit at some drink manufacturers in Great Britain and Ireland around 1800, notably Schweppes. An official recycling system with refundable deposits was established in Sweden for bottles in 1884 and aluminum beverage cans in 1982; the law led to a recycling rate for beverage containers of 84–99 percent depending on type, and a glass bottle can be refilled over 20 times on average.
New chemical industries created in the late 19th century both invented new materials (e.g. Bakelite (1907) and promised to transform valueless into valuable materials. Proverbially, you could not make a silk purse of a sow's ear—until the US firm Arhur D. Little published in 1921 "On the Making of Silk Purses from Sows' Ears", its research proving that when "chemistry puts on overalls and gets down to business . . .new values appear. New and better paths are opened to reach the goals desired."
“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”
– Annie Leonard, Proponent of Sustainability
Recycling was a highlight throughout World War II. During the war, financial constraints and significant material shortages due to war efforts made it necessary for countries to reuse goods and recycle materials. These resource shortages caused by the world wars, and other such world-changing occurrences, greatly encouraged recycling. The struggles of war claimed much of the material resources available, leaving little for the civilian population. It became necessary for most homes to recycle their waste, as recycling offered an extra source of materials allowing people to make the most of what was available to them. Recycling household materials meant more resources for war efforts and a better chance of victory. Massive government promotion campaigns were carried out in the home front during World War II in every country involved in the war, urging citizens to donate metals and conserve fiber, as a matter of patriotism.
British poster from World War II
A considerable investment in recycling occurred in the 1970s, due to rising energy costs. Recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the energy required by virgin production; glass, paper and other metals have less dramatic but very significant energy savings when recycled feedstock is used.
Although consumer electronics such as the television have been popular since the 1920s, recycling of them was almost unheard of until early 1991. The first electronic waste recycling scheme was implemented in Switzerland, beginning with collection of old refrigerators but gradually expanding to cover all devices. After these schemes were set up, many countries did not have the capacity to deal with the sheer quantity of e-waste they generated or its hazardous nature. They began to export the problem to developing countries without enforced environmental legislation. This is cheaper, as recycling computer monitors in the United States costs 10 times more than in China. Demand in Asia for electronic waste began to grow when scrap yards found that they could extract valuable substances such as copper, silver, iron, silicon, nickel, and gold, during the recycling process. The 2000s saw a large increase in both the sale of electronic devices and their growth as a waste stream: in 2002, e-waste grew faster than any other type of waste in the EU. This caused investment in modern, automated facilities to cope with the influx of redundant appliances, especially after strict laws were implemented in 2003.
“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.” Terry Swearingen, Nurse & Winner of Goldman Environmental Prize in 1997
As of 2014, the European Union has about 50% of world share of the waste and recycling industries, with over 60,000 companies employing 500,000 persons, with a turnover of €24 billion. Countries have to reach recycling rates of at least 50%, while the lead countries are around 65% and the EU average is 39% as of 2013.
“At its core, the issue of a clean environment is a matter of public health." Gina McCarthy, Ex- Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
– Fred Rogers, Television Personality
SOURCE: RECYCLING by WIKIPEDIA (CC BY SA)