We had the pleasure of spending the day with Sandile and David from Wildlands.
Wildlands have a compelling mission, one that we can all agree with. This is it: Imagine a world where the poorest of the poor could feed themselves, clothe themselves, educate themselves, house themselves – by growing and bartering trees and collecting waste, all while conserving their natural environment and heritage.
As simple it sounds, it takes incredible amount of passion and commitment to make it a reality.
We spent the day with Sandile and Michael at Cato where they are creating a food garden. This garden is the used to teach members of the community how to grow their own food in a sustainable way. Food security is a very big issue in South Africa
These are the other programs they have:
Trees for Life – This was first piloted in northern KwaZulu-Natal in 2004 and gives jobless and marginalised individuals the chance to “grow” themselves out of poverty by propagating indigenous trees and bartering these trees for livelihood support. We call these inspirational souls – Tree-preneurs.
Greening your Future – Through this programme, the trees propagated by Tree-preneurs, are planted into restoration sites, restoring indigenous forests, riparian zones and sequestering carbon that local communities can trade as a source of annuity income. More than 1 million indigenous trees are planted into degraded areas – covering thousands of hectares, annually.
Recycling for Life – This programme allows poverty stricken and marginalised people to collect and trade recyclable waste for livelihood support. Wildlands’ network of Waste-preneurs fulfil a very important function of cleaning their communities, removing glass, plastic, cans and paper from local water sources and communal areas, and ultimately creating clean environments for local residents.
Clothes for Life – This is a new programme which was launched in April 2015. Green-preneurs (the collective term for Waste-preneurs and Tree-preneurs) , will now be able barter their trees and waste for bundles of good quality, second hand clothing, collected by schools all over Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
Ubuntu Earth – This programme is founded on the principle that human well-being and environmental health are directly linked.
Khuthaza Business – This is a Wildlands’ Small and Micro Enterprise Development project, started in 2013, anchored by Mondi, Mondi Zimele and the South African Sugar Association (SASA) has enabled over 90 capital grants in exchange for trees.
Conservation SPACE – (Species, People and the Conservation of the Environment) This programme aims to expand the conservation of natural areas through various means. This includes direct land acquisition and proclamation, working with local communities and landowners to secure and proclaim land, and through funding the work of other organisations.
And now Sustainable Food Gardens!
A RECYCLING firm has been named as the UK leader in a global competition set up to recognise businesses which show continuous improvement.
The awards, which are run by Corporate LiveWire and are now in their 11th year, saw J&B Recycling named as Most Outstanding In Recycling Solutions in the Innovation & Excellence category.
From the development and incorporation of cutting edge technology to the creation of forward thinking strategies, the Innovation & Excellence Awards honour and celebrate those businesses and firms which are creating a brighter tomorrow.
The Innovation & Excellence Awards give recognition to businesses that are transforming their respective industries and the standard-bearers of excellence by continually setting industry trends as well as showing significant advances in terms of innovation and improvement.
J&B Recycling has invested £6m into a state-of-the-art Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) which sorts and processes various waste streams at the highest quality, and also has also invested heavily in equipment for both its sites in Hartlepool and South Tees.
Vikki Jackson-Smith, Managing Director of J&B Recycling, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be named as the winners of such a prestigious award.
“We have continued to grow year-on-year, both in terms of our turnover and the workforce, and throughout that time we have continued to invest in systems to ensure we stay ahead of the field and provide the best service we can to our customers.
“To be named as a top performer in the UK is an honour for any business in any sector, and it is nice for everyone connected with J&B Recycling that our hard work is recognised in this way.“
As well as the UK awards, honours are also handed out to businesses from across the globe with categories covering the Americas, Asia & Australasia and Africa & The Middle East.
Jake Powers from Corporate LiveWire said: “Given the increased focus on sustainability and ecology in recent times, it has become even more imperative for companies to provide innovative solutions in waste collection, recovery and recycling.
“Our judges were satisfied that J&B Recycling tick all of these boxes and were particularly impressed by the seamless manner in which they operate.
“As a result, we are delighted to name them as the winner for the Most Outstanding in Recycling Solutions in our Innovation & Excellence Awards for 2016.“
Elizabeth Moore, Awards Director of the 2016 Innovation & Excellence Awards, said: “The Corporate LiveWire Innovation & Excellence award winners have not only excelled within their respective sector but have also shown flexibility to adapt to industry changes.
“We are extremely proud of every single one of our winners and we look forward to seeing how they will continue to demonstrate their commitment in the future.“
Votes were taken for the awards through the Corporate LiveWire website over the last 12 months, with the most successful applicants eventually put onto a shortlist.
From there, the judging panel considered the strengths of each candidate, setting its sights firmly on the most innovative, groundbreaking and client-focused firms, teams and individuals who have transformed the way in which they do business.
J&B Recycling recycles approximately 120,000 tonnes of waste each year from household, commercial, industrial and construction sources with customers including car parts manufacturer Nifco UK, Camerons Brewery and dozens of community buildings, pubs and restaurants.
The company’s strategy is to divert waste from landfill by increasing the levels and types of waste streams that can be recycled in a cost effective and sustainable manner through forward thinking and innovation.
J&B Recycling employs almost 200 staff across both sites in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.
A s a result of the poverty that affects many families in our country, some men and women resort to recycling to keep their hunger at bay.
While recycling helps generate a small income that can buy bread, it also helps to keep our environment clean. The sad part of it is that the community looks down on people who walk around looking for empty cans, bottles and papers.
If you think that the recyclers are a bunch of losers, think again. Their initiative needs to be encouraged by all means.
Whenever we have recyclable items, we can put them aside for the recyclers to collect. By helping the unemployed to put food on the table you will be helping the whole nation to develop.
Some unemployed people have turned to illegal business while others are con artists who rob people on a daily basis. Others are beggars who are driven by self-pity.
I would like to salute all those who wake up in the morning and go to dumps or walk the streets to pick up recyclable stuff.
They are doing nothing illegal and at the end of the day their families have food on the table.
As the people of South Africa we need to do away with empty pride and help each other to alleviate poverty. The more we work together towards a common goal, the more our country will develop and reduce people’s reliance on government grants.
Recycling is so 20th century. According to one new study, there could be a new way to cut down on plastic waste: bacteria that consume one of the major components of our old bottles and clothes.
The study, published Thursday in Science, focuses on a newly-discovered bacterium called Ideonella sakaiensis. It was found outside of a bottle recycling plant, and it seems to have evolved a pair of enzymes it uses to break down polyethylene terephthalate or PET, a polymer so widely used to make plastic that about 50 million tons of it are made every year.
Because 311 million tons of plastics are produced worldwide each year — and very little of that amount makes it to recycling plants — scientists are always on the lookout for new, better ways of making PET break down when it inevitably ends up in landfills, but it’s tough stuff.
“You may think this is the rerun of an old story, as plastic-eating microbes have already been touted as saviors of the planet,” the University of Hull’s“But there are several important differences here. First, previous reports were of tricky-to-cultivate fungi, where in this case the microbe is easily grown. The researchers more or less left the PET in a warm jar with the bacterial culture and some other nutrients, and a few weeks later all the plastic was gone.”
The impressive results don’t mean that we can start tossing plastic bottles into landfills all willy-nilly: It’s going to take some more work before the bacteria are ready to tackle our messes. For now, they still have a hard time breaking down the highly crystallized form of PET used in most hard plastics.
“It’s difficult to break down highly crystallized PET,” study author Kenji Miyamoto of Keio University told The Guardian. “Our research results are just the initiation for the application. We have to work on so many issues needed for various applications. It takes a long time.”
And there are other potential hiccups: If plastics were broken down using bacterial processes, they might release unsavory molecules and compounds into the environment that would otherwise stay locked up.
But even if there’s no direct use for Ideonella sakaiensis in our environment, the bacteria’s mechanism for consuming PET could be used to develop synthetic plastic-chompers in the lab. And the bacteria’s existence is a great sign: PET has only been around for about 70 years, and this indicates that at least one organism has already evolved the ability to consume it. It’s likely that there are other microbes out there doing the same thing for PET and other kinds of plastics — and one of those species could wind up revolutionizing the way we recycle.
An Eastern Cape technology start-up company is revolutionising electronic waste disposal and recycling in South Africa through a mobile unit dubbed the “e-shredder,” which will help private and public sector organisations to discard electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete. Once e-waste has been sanitised, the recycled components will be upcycled into consumer goods which in turn will provide job creation in arts and crafts sectors.
eWaste Technologies Africa (eTA), a client of the Seda Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII) in Port Elizabeth, has a zero-to-landfill policy, which means the company is committed to finding ways for e-waste to be reused, recycled or repurposed.
In South Africa, e-waste makes up 5% to 8% of municipal solid waste. E-waste is also growing at a rate three times faster than any other waste forms in the country.
“eWaste can be transformed into art. They will create jobs and the money made on these projects will be theirs. The non-profit organisation can make jewellery, clocks, and so much more,” said Enrico Vermaak, eTA Managing Director.
eWaste Technologies Africa recently repurposed a hard drive shredder into a mobile waste disposal unit. This means it can be transported to a client’s premises where it will provide secure hard drive destruction service.
The company will offer clients enhanced data sanitation services by ensuring that information on devices is rendered completely inaccessible even before the equipment in which it is stored is recycled or disposed of.
“We scrub all hard drives, ensuring our methods are compliant with the South African National Intelligence Agency requirements,” said Vermaak.
“If the information on old IT equipment isn’t sanitised or destroyed properly before disposal or sponsorship, it could cause massive reputational damage to your company. Just imagine the implications of the unsanitised laptop of your CFO ending up in the hands of a competitor or local media,” he said.
“The mobile ewaste shredder will be taken to a company or individual’s premises to perform physical data destruction on hard drives and solid state drives. A certificate will be issued as proof that the hard drive was destroyed.”
eTA also offers on-site ewaste receptacles and collection services for the disposal of e-waste.
“Until recently very few companies have considered proper data sanitation or destruction as an option. We have received old PC’s and laptops that were deemed ‘wiped’, and found very sensitive information on them. Fortunately all devices that we receive are sanitised before further processing.”
Vermaak added that most large corporates buy laptops, desktops and tablets with an OEM Microsoft Operating System license included. Typically these Operating Systems are upgraded to comply with company licenses.
“When the machine is disposed of or sponsored, the upgraded Operating System must be removed and replaced with the original OEM license. This may only be done with the original CD/DVD that was distributed with the device. As a Microsoft Registered Refurbisher (MRR), we will ensure that all licensing obligations are met for your peace of mind.”
Vermaak explained that the use of ewaste in art was a new project his company was busy with as part of their social responsibility. “It is a pilot project. We will sponsor the ewaste and tools to the community, who in turn make jewellery or office supplies such as business card holders or book holders.”
eWaste Technologies Africa is a member of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA), the body that oversees industry best practices and the latest recycling techniques.
What to ask for when choosing an IT asset disposal partner:
- Do you sanitise data before it leaves my site?
- Do you belong to any or all of the following associations:
o Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA)
o The e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA)
o The South African e-Waste Alliance (SAEWA).
o South African Police Service (SAPS) for a second hand goods license.
- Do you landfill any of the IT assets?
- Can you destroy the information at my premises (if legally required)?
- Are you a Microsoft Registered Refurbisher (MRR)?
As commodity prices plummet, opponents are indicting recycling as too impractical and costly. The debate came to a head late last year when The New York Times posed the ultimate question: Is recycling worth it?
Its answer: probably not. But most of us working in the waste, recycling, public policy, environmental and health fields would respond with a full-throated, “Yes, it is.”
Recycling — hand in hand with other advanced waste management practices — plays a vital role in shutting down the true enemy of the environment: landfills.
The primary argument against recycling is an economic one: the costs don’t justify the benefits. In down commodity markets, this line of reasoning goes, the cost of recovering materials (and energy) is higher than the cost to produce and use virgin materials.
Most of us in the waste and recycling community would agree that recycling should stand on its own. And it’s true that recycling may not always pencil out by itself. However, this math overlooks the enormous impact of externalities such as carbon and methane emissions, damage to public health and loss of resources. Even at today’s recycling rates, the avoided greenhouse gas emissions alone represent $8 billion to $12 billion a year in avoided future costs associated with climate change.
There are many reasons, however, to continue recycling in down markets when sluggish global growth drives down raw material prices.
First, the materials have intrinsic value, which will increase when the market recovers. Because the success or failure of recycling programs hinge on human awareness, behavior and habit, it’s counterproductive to start and stop recycling programs too frequently, leading to wasted resources.
Second, experience shows that when we stop innovating during difficult times, we fall behind, impeding progress when the good times return. Like commodities, waste generation cycles often mirror that of the global economy; the upside is that down cycles force us to find ways to increase productivity, brainstorm new business models, and drive down costs to stay competitive.
It’s time to think of recycling and zero-landfill programs as critical components of a broader strategy for end-of-life materials and important weapons in the fight against climate change, water contamination and various other environmental and social challenges.
This approach begins with the “reduce and reuse” mantra, where reducing demand for new products and materials reduces carbon emissions, pollution and waste associated with production, transportation and disposal. Recycling is the next leg of the journey, and serves to recover value from goods already made while avoiding the use of virgin materials.
For waste that can’t be effectively recycled, we move to an oft-maligned strategy that is widely successful around the world: responsibly burning waste to generate electricity.
Recovering energy from non-recycled waste offers myriad benefits — from the obvious reduction of unappealing landfills, to offsetting a ton of carbon for each ton of waste burned, to generating enough electricity to power a million homes in just the U.S. each year. Most people don’t realize waste-to-energy plants generate more energy than many major solar and wind projects.
Working together, and following countries like Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, all with exemplary recycling rates augmented with energy recovery, we could save over 260 million tons of CO2 annually — equivalent to closing over 60 coal-fired power plants. We could save the energy equivalent of 14 percent of our imported oil, all while generating 350,000 new permanent jobs and $130 billion in direct economic activity.
By contrast, landfills are among the most harmful environmental hazards we face today. Landfills are the third-largest source of methane, which is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and emit over 170 other air pollutants, including over 40 hazardous air pollutants, four known carcinogens, and 13 probable carcinogens. Recycling can help mitigate those emissions.
And while recycling opponents talk about how difficult it is to recycle, the industry has continued to find innovative ways to make it easier. By making recycling part of our everyday experience, our time and effort shapes a new mindset focused on strengthening the community.
In just the last few decades, a new recycling mindset has transformed human habits around waste disposal. Technology and a more comprehensive recycling strategy have sparked new green industries, bringing jobs, improved energy security, and protected communities, as well as generating impressive value for citizens.
WILDLANDS, a leading Hilton environmental NPO, is dedicated to conserving South Africa’s biodiversity and, with the Msunduzi Municipality, launched the “Kerbside Programme” in 2013.
The kerbside-orange bag programme is aimed at providing residents with a convenient and hassle-free recycling collection service.
“Wildlands is proud to say it assisted the Msunduzi Municipality with the establishment of the orange bag recycling model. However, after almost three years of recycling collections Wildlands has decided to hand over this service and the rolling out of this programme to the new and upcoming network of SMMEs. We are shifting our focus to more catalytic interventions that have defined socioeconomic benefits,” said Wildlands CEO, Dr Andrew Venter.
Wildlands will now focus its efforts on its wastepreneurs, community members who collect and barter their waste for livelihood support and school networks. These are both strong networks that have a significant impact on waste management in the two municipalities, Msunduzi and uMngeni.
“As Wildlands we convey our sincere and heartfelt appreciation to the Msunduzi Municipality for their amazing contribution and continued support in ensuring the kerbside programme success, and as a result will continue collecting from the seven recycling villages which we have across the two municipalities, because these provide an important community service,” said Venter.
The recycling villages can be found at Hayfields Mall, Quarry Shopping Centre in Hilton, Greensdale, WESSA in Howick and Curry’s Post in Nottingham Road.
While the country has never sought to hide this collateral environmental damage, it has also been looking for ways of launching green initiatives to help save the planet as much it can.
It is in this spirit that one of the country’s leading risk financiers, Business Partners Limited (BPL), recently launched a R300 million Green Fund it said aims to finance and support profit-seeking businesses that operate in the ‘green industry’.
The BPL Green Fund will provide expansion capital, as well as start-up funding and property finance from R500 000 and up to R30 million, BPL MD Nazeem Martin said at the launch in Cape Town, adding that the type of businesses it will finance are diverse.
“We are seeking to finance businesses which actively develop, manufacture and provide goods and services aimed at ‘saving the planet’, as well as those businesses that are ‘doing the right thing’ by implementing measures and/or technology which reduce their adverse impact on the environment,” he explained.
Businesses that qualify for finance from the Fund will therefore range from renewable energy providers (offering an alternative, clean and environment friendly energy source) to energy or emissions savings product and service providers, to recyclers, waste managers and green building service and product providers.
The Fund will also consider financing businesses working to conserve natural resources, protect ecosystems and biodiversity and businesses producing healthier food sources.
“Ultimately we want to support those businesses that are making a difference,” Martin said.
The Fund will have a dedicated team to support with the application process and entrepreneurs will have access to dedicated industry specific specialists. A R50 000 interest free loan is also available to qualifying entrepreneurs for technical assistance.
“Our Green Fund seeks to develop, grow and invest in sustainable businesses, enabling them to capitalise on opportunities in the ‘green economy’ – especially in the clean and green technology, renewable energy, recycling sectors – and deliver on its inherent job and wealth creation potential,” Martin said.
“Making up 91% of formalised businesses in South Africa and contributing for more than 60% of new jobs created, SMEs are a vital contributor to the country’s GDP and employment. We believe by equipping SME entrepreneurs to thrive in the ‘green economy’, we can enhance their contribution to the economy and the environment,” he added.
Bearing in mind that the United Nations Environmental Programme Green Economy Report 2015 report demonstrates that the greening of economies can create a new engine of growth and job creation, Martin said the South African government was committed to unleashing the potential of the green economy, in line with the New Growth Path, which has identified the green economy as one of the six priority sectors to assist in reaching its target of five million new jobs by 2020.
It is believed that the New Growth Path Framework aims to create 300 000 additional direct jobs by 2020 in an effort to green the economy.
“Given our country’s rich alternative energy sources, we have the potential to reduce its unsustainable levels of carbon emissions through increasing the renewable (solar, wind and, to a lesser extent, hydro) component of its energy supply mix. And, the knock-on effect for economic growth and job creation from investing in these new alternative energy sectors will be substantial,” the MD said.
“Such initiatives and policy frameworks require huge capital investments, creating space and opportunities for large businesses. But, simultaneously, opportunities arise for SMEs within the component manufacturing and service industry sectors as higher levels of local content is specified and required within government’s policy framework,” Martin said.
“Finally, a great deal of innovation is required from private sector financiers to seize the market opportunity created by government’s green economy plans and policy frameworks.”
Africa attracted US$8 billion in renewable energy investment in 2014 (up from $5.3 billion in 2013), with South Africa accounting for U$5.5 billion alone, Martin said, quoting figures from the SADC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report.
The Fund’s core objectives will be to finance and support SMEs that:
• Support renewable energy technologies in South Africa.
• Reduce energy consumption and lower carbon emissions by improving energy efficiency.
• Promote energy savings that ensure long-term competitiveness.
• Contribute to job creation in the ‘green economy’.
Who qualifies for this Fund?
BPL seeks to finance businesses which actively develop, manufacture and provide goods and services aimed at ‘saving the planet’, as well as those businesses that are ‘doing the right thing’ by implementing measures and/or technology which reduce their adverse impact on the environment. Businesses that qualify for finance from the Fund include:
• Renewable energy providers (offering an alternative, clean and environment friendly energy source)
• Energy or emissions savings product and service providers including renewable energy projects that reduce or stop the need for electricity from the national grid
• Projects which are eligible under specific Eskom programmes
• Waste managers
• Green building service and product providers
• Businesses working to conserve natural resources
• Businesses which protect ecosystems and biodiversity
• Businesses producing healthier food sources.
• How to apply for finance?
To help ease the high unemployment levels throughout the continent, organisations need to be innovative and create new commercially viable business opportunities.
eWaste has captured the headlines in recent months and is no doubt an attractive proposition for companies to help stimulate economy growth.
At the recent national consultative conference on electronic and electrical waste (eWaste) management, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa reaffirmed Government’s commitment to working with the waste sector in meeting its challenges.
The conference focused on issues around the contextualisation of the eWaste challenges in South Africa, the management of eWaste in Municipalities, eWaste Recycling and Policy and legislative environment. eWaste makes up 5 – 8 percent of municipal solid waste in South Africa and is growing at a rate three times faster than any other form of waste.
Xperien CEO Wale Arewa says the challenge in the proper management of eWaste is a result of a lack of recycling infrastructure, poor legislation and inadequate funding. “The eWaste sector is a catalyst for socio-economic development, it is the source of new businesses and jobs.”
“As part of the overall concern for the environment, the Department of Environmental Affairs has already seen many new job opportunities created in other areas of recycling such as tyres and plastic packaging. Neither of these, however, have the same challenges as those faced by eWaste,” says Arewa.
He says the range of products to be recycled, the diversity of their contents and recoverable components and materials, provide significant challenges and present hazards that need careful management.
Company executives need to consider regulatory compliance, cost and more importantly, the protection of company information. eWaste disposal challenges facing companies in today’s environment include legislative requirements, compliance to Protection of Personal Information Act 2013 (PoPI 2013), the National Environmental Waste Management Act 2008 (NEMWA 2008) and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA).
Echoing a warning by the e-Waste Association of South Africa, Arewa says Africa is becoming a dumping ground for America and Europe under the guise of donations. “If we do not manage our eWaste, South Africa could find itself and its people in a high risk health and environmental crisis.”
This is aggravated by low levels of consumer awareness as well as unregulated disposal, collection and recycling eWaste processes, amongst others. Research shows that unrestricted use of the informal sector to handle eWaste can create more problems than it solves. Metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic are all present in eWaste. For those workers who spend endless days exposed to dangerous levels of toxic elements with little to no protection, while breaking down electronics by hand, are at huge risk.
“eWaste contains a number of hazardous materials, which if not handled correctly, present huge risks to those who process eWaste as well. That’s why we believe any initiative to boost employment in the field of eWaste needs careful consideration. There is certainly an increase in eWaste disposal compliance awareness, customers realise this importance of choosing the correct partner for eWaste disposal,” he adds.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for example forecasts that obsolete computers, both in China and in South Africa, will rise by 500% in 2020 compared to their 2007 levels. Statistics show for instance that developed countries will increase their exports of eWaste into China and Africa by 50-80%.
“The World Bank is one of many international institutions that fully appreciate the importance of evaluating the impact of any initiative,” says Dr Peter Tobin of IACT-Africa, one of the companies helping Xperien explore the implications of the opportunities and threats presented by eWaste.
Recycling is not about rubbish: it’s valuable commodities you’re chucking in your wheelie bin, according to sustainability expert Marcus Gover, not rubbish.
Myths persist about recycling, with some people still claiming that material in recycling bins is secretly sent to landfill rather than recycled and made into new products. (See episode one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV show if you don’t believe me.) But the truth is that recycling is more important than it has ever been, with the global population at 7 billion and rising, and a growing middle class in developing countries hungry for the same consumer pleasures that richer countries’ citizens already enjoy.
“We need to be really clear that we know we’re on a planet with dwindling resources,” says Fearnley-Whittingstall, warning that the amount we waste is tantamount to an “environmental catastrophe”. While he is referring to food waste, his point holds for all the other materials we consume – the oil that makes our plastic water bottles, the trees that make our Amazon delivery’s cardboard packaging and so forth. Everything we buy and use has to come from somewhere, and that means finite resources being dug up, often at great environmental and social cost.
“Everyone knows the environmental benefits of recycling: it conserves resources by putting them back to productive use and, even more importantly, it avoids the pollution caused by having to extract, mine and process new resources,” says Annie Leonard, producer of the viral YouTube film Story of Stuff, and now head of Greenpeace USA.
That extraction can not only cause local environmental problems but international harm too. All extraction requires energy and so – until we take the carbon out of our energy systems – that means more emissions and more global warming. “If you recycle plastic rather than make it from oil, it’s saving about one tonne of CO2 for each tonne of plastic that’s recycled,” says Gover. “All the UK’s recycling is probably avoiding around 18m tonnes CO2 equivalent [total UK emissions in 2014 were 520.5m tonnes CO2e]. It’s a significant contribution. It’s like taking 5 million cars off the road.” Metals in particular are very recyclable. Making the aluminium in your can of fizzy drink from bauxite is a very energy-intensive process – to the point where it’s much cheaper for soft drinks companies to buy recycled aluminium.
Recycling advocates – which should surely be all of us – are increasingly likely to talk up the economic importance of recycling. EU commissioners have even warned that Europe faces another recession if we don’t get better at reusing and recycling our resources. “Recycling has huge job creation potential, creating 10 to 200 times the jobs created by burying and burning all that stuff,” says Leonard. Gover argues that recycling more in the UK – recycling has flatlined in England in recent years – is vital to the country’s economic growth. “We talk about the UK getting its economic growth back, and resources are the fuel for the engine of recovery,” he says.
Recycling also keeps stuff out of landfill, where it can have further environmental impacts. As well as causing local contamination – researchers have found abandoned UK landfills leaching ammonium into rivers – putting rubbish in landfill can exacerbate climate change too. Anything biodegradable that breaks down in a landfill, such as newspapers and food waste, generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more powerful than CO2.
We are running out of landfill, too, with just 484,370 cubic meters left in England at the end of 2014, down from 715,000 at the turn of the millennium.
So it’s important for the economy, for our remaining wildernesses that are yet to be mined and logged, and for the planet’s atmosphere and climate. But is it important to you as an individual? Well, if you’d prefer your council tax to be spent on local libraries rather than ever-rising landfill taxes, it’s worth caring about. Gover says that some of its most successful promotional materials communicate to people that recycling more reduces costs for their local authorities.
Recycling is also one of the few tangible and immediate things that anyone can do to minimise their environmental impact. “Recycling has a personal benefit; it gives us a chance to align our values and our actions, which feels good, and inspires us to do more,” says Leonard.
Of course, any schoolchild will tell you that while recycling is important, it’s not as important as two other “Rs” – reducing and reusing. As Leonard puts it: “We shouldn’t start with recycling, but only do it after we have exhausted the environmentally preferable options of reducing and reusing stuff. Being able to recycle something is not a licence to carelessly consume, but is a last resort if we honestly cannot have avoided, reused, repaired or shared the stuff.”