Global Recycling Day: the potential it holds for sustaining our environment

With Earth's resources being finite and the consumption of them speeding up at an unprecedented pace, resources are gradually running out. Today's Global Recycling Day reminds us of the impact recycling has and what can be done to sustain our resources.
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With deforestation, melting icecaps and a growing threat of forest fires, climate change has a visibly growing effect on our earth. These outcomes in turn affect humanity directly, manifesting in increased poverty, the disappearance of natural habitats for animals as well as humans, and enormous amounts of waste. The ongoing exploitation of natural resources is part and parcel in this process – which will eventually peak in the total exhaustion of those resources. Considering this daunting outlook, recycling materials appears like a welcome chance to regard waste as an opportunity instead of worthless trash.

On March 18, we therefore celebrate Global Recycling Day. It was created by the Global Recycling Foundation in 2018 and aims at raising awareness, highlighting the true value of apparent "waste" and emphasizing the potential of recycling in a circular economy. In 2020, Global Recycling Day reaches us at a time of global crisis, with our climate facing unprecedented emergencies. However, it appears that we are facing the beacon of a new era, with heightened consciousness for the environment and possibilities to be of help when it comes to making the earth a healthier place once again.

Why is it essential to recycle?

Our most important primary resources are water, oil, air, coal, natural gas and minerals. However, these resources are finite, and dwindling at a tearing pace. Recycled goods are therefore seen as the 'Seventh Resource' – one that already offsets the annual CO2 emissions generated by global air traffic. It was the BIR, Bureau of International Recycling, that first introduced this concept in its global manifesto ‘Recycling: The Seventh Resource’ to demonstrate that the materials we discard have the power to help combatting climate change.

To recycle therefore means to see an opportunity in waste: So-called 'Seventh Resource' materials (recyclables) momentarily save over 700 million tons in CO2 emissions, with a possible increase to one billion tons by 2030. Recognizing its potential to protect our environment and resources, recycling in terms of promoting sustainability is one of the essential intents of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Recycling also means to root against a quick-fix, throwaway consumer culture – which has been growing perpetually around the globe.

What can be recycled?

Materials that can be recycled meaningfully are plasticsmetal, fabric and electronics – among many other substances. The production and discard of plastics is particularly high in carbon emissions, which is why it is important to find ways of reusing and repurposing this particular commodity. Already, there are innovative recycling and upcycling practices, concerning reusable plastic, recycling or repairing clothes.

Make recycling possible across the globe

As you might be aware, recycling measures are already being taken – and work quite well – in some countries. For examples, Germany recycled 56.1 % of its waste in 2018, followed by Austria and South KOREA with rates of over 53%. In order to create an effective circular economy, recycling has to be made possible and accessible across the globe.

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Global Recycling Day intends to spread a message, as well as questions we can ask ourselves: How can we distribute the technologies of recycling globally? How can we convince the global community of the advantages of recycling? How could we possibly support the transport of knowledge, workforce and machinery to countries that have not introduced high measures of recycling yet?

Good to know:
It is certain that even countries in which recycling systems are already installed can work to enhance their rates: A standardization of recycling systems across the EU would be an innovative example in this case. Introducing appropriate and advanced waste and recycling infrastructures globally would once more support the furtherance of recycling considerably. 

How companies and consumers can become recycling champions

What can companies do?
When it comes to recycling, especially large companies have an exemplary function. Here, schemes could reach from the sustainable production of goods and the implementation of a design meant for recycling. Especially packaging (plastic and non-plastic) should be designed in a specific way to make it easier to recycle. The EU has already set a framework: The first-ever ‘European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’ details the necessity for designing plastic products in a way which fully respects the needs of reuse, repair, and recycling to thus boosts the market for recycled plastics.

Corporations as well as public leaders should also:

  • support and promote the sustainable trade of recyclable materials to ecologically mindful companies,
  • fulfill their responsibility to educate and raise awareness among the public for recycling as a community cause and an issue of global interest,
  • develop and implement a common language of recycling worldwide, including the common use of materials, design and symbolism and
  • establish the reuse of materials, the reduction of waste and the integration of an "end-of-life" functionality at a design stage.

To become true recycling champions, companies should additionally support innovation, research and small initiatives, which advocate for better recycling practices in our economy.

What can individuals and consumers do?
On a personal level, the mantra should always be: reduce, reuse, recycle. If you buy something new, use products more than once or repurpose them after use. As simple examples, keep plastic bags to use them as trash bags or organize your wardrobe with old shoe cartons.

The Global Recycling Foundation lists these measures to become a recycling citizen:

  • Use less things of plastic and metal (especially single use items),
  • help friends follow the recycling rules,
  • rediscover, repair, reuse or upcycle old objects or clothes,
  • only put clean, dry items in the recycling box or bag,
  • share your experience online with friends and family and
  • don't forget to recycle other materials like electronics.

There are multiple ways to integrate recycling in both our personal lives and on a corporate level. On today’s Global Recycling Day we are once again prompted to rethink the way we currently treat our resources, to reconsider what we throw away and acknowledge the worth of waste – which in fact is highly valuable and a resource for something new. We all have a role to play and can collectively make a difference.

Happy Global Recycling Day!