Could Recycling Save The World?
Ok, that title is eerily drastic, but there is some truth in it. Recycling plastic bottles, glass and cans by putting it out one evening a week may not seem vital to saving the world, but believe it or not, you're making a solid contribution.
Everything is about oil, because oil is money, and oil is energy, oil is movement, and oil is running out. We can search high and low, dig, pump and frack, but there will come a day when the oil runs dry. When that day comes, there will be no more plastic being produced. Even if there was plastic produced and ready to go, there would be no fuel to transport it! The same goes for metal, glass and paper, it can be very fuel demanding to produce the fresh versions of these things, but low energy to recycle them!
Virgin plastic is made from crude oil, the thick black stuff that we desperately crave the Earth to mysteriously supply more of. Recycling plastic is done by shredding plastic, which can be virgin or recycled itself, and putting it through a line of processes that allow it to be remade into something new. Some processes involve melting, some involve boiling and some involve a mixture of heat and pressure.
Whilst recycling plastic is as finite as oil, what it can do is slow down the consumption of crude oil and help our dwindling natural resources last longer, with the optimistic hope that we will find a new mineral to feed on. The longer we can delay the end of oil, the longer we can go before all hell breaks loose!
2. The cause
Recycling didn't just happen because it made sense. A group of environmentally conscious people in the 60s understood
that we were mass-producing a long term problem, and so they encouraged recycling, which took off. Once cities and councils realised they could sell plastic, cardboard and aluminium back to the factories, it made perfect sense. Recycling wasn't always called recycling, once upon a time it was just being resourceful and thrifty; ask the oldest person you know about it!
The cause for recycling boomed, and it is now a major part of the environmental movement. People who care about the environment and the planet, care about recycling. So, in the sense of a shift in mentality, if recycling were to end, it would have meant an end to people who care. If there's nobody to care, well then the world wouldn't last very long now, would it?
3. People, Planet, Profit
Financial, social and environmental performance are measured by the 'Triple Bottom-Line', which consists of People, Planet and Profit
. In that order, the three Ps are ordered in the way that people would like to think business should be done. If it helps people, and isn't bad for the planet, it's fine for it to make a profit.
What about Planet, People, Profit? That's a more environmental point of view, putting the planet first. It's safe to say if that approach had been taken many centuries ago, the planet would be in a much healthier state. Who was to know that the industrial revolution would set a trend for a high-pollution planet?
The reality is that the order goes Profit, People, Planet. Humans have grown selfish, seeking independent success. As we have destroyed the habitats of insects, fish, birds and mammals worldwide, we have seen an increase in animals cooperating to increase their chances of survival. Humans could learn a thing or two.
Ever heard this quote before? “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money”
In a sense, putting money and selfish acts before the health of our planet may ultimately be our downfall. Recycling will only do so much to protect Earth, but encouraging the process will only help to push more environmental practices out into the world. This is the ripple effect.
4. Recycling creates jobs
There are hundreds of thousands of people who work in the recycling and waste management industries worldwide. If one day, all these jobs disappeared, it would be chaos. It's common knowledge that civil unrest is more frequent and disastrous in countries with high unemployment.
So, whilst recycling can protect the planet, it can also protect our peace. It may only be one industry among many, but it has a part to play in most industries, and is heavily relied upon for many businesses with a high waste output. If recycling was to end, so would many other things, causing a great deal of upset.
If the world were to end, there's a good chance we'd wipe ourselves out. Let's trying and reduce the chance of that happening by recycling plastic, glass, metal and paper, and stretching our resources as far as they can go!
5. Pyrolysis - Recycling plastic with fire.
Science has helped develop a technique that allows liquid fuel to be derived from recycling plastic waste in a big machine. You should read our Pyrolysis feature here.