Recycling plastic and glass - why it makes a difference
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With a little understanding of the issues
involved, we can re-use or recycle most of the masses amount
of waste we produce from plastic and glass and at the same
time we can reduce costs, save energy, protect the environment
and even create new jobs. Although waste awareness is on
the increase, recycling rates are on the low side and many
people are still unaware of just why recycling is so important.
Recycling Plastic Waste
According to Recoup (the UK's leading authority on plastics
waste management), every household uses approximately 373
plastic bottles a year of which 29 are recycled and yet
recycling just one of these plastic bottles can save enough
energy to light a 60 watt bulb for up to 6 hours. So why
are we not recycling more plastic?
One of the main issues regarding the recycling of plastic
is lack of opportunity to recycle. This is partly because
plastic can be contaminated with other materials and the
cost of processing this can outweigh the cost of producing
more plastic so compared to other materials like glass and
paper, there are fewer places to recycle plastic. However,
plastic is lightweight and highly versatile and one way
round this is to re-use plastic within the home.
There are many different types of plastic but most plastics
fall into one of the following main types:
• PET (Polyethylene terphthalate) – Fizzy drinks bottles
and trays for convenience foods to put straight into the
• HDPE (High density polyethylene) – Milk bottles and washing
up liquid bottles
• PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) – Cling film, juice and water
bottles, shampoo bottles
• LDPE (Low density polyethylene) – Plastic bags
• PP (Polypropylene) – Margarine tubs and microwavable meal
• PS (Polystyrene) – Egg cartons, plastic cutlery and cups,
yoghurt pots, meat and fish foam trays
Plastics are largely used for packaging and because they
have a relatively short life span (they tend to be thrown
away as soon as their contents are used), they represent
a major waste problem. They are also generally non-degradable
which means they can take a long time to decompose and break
down. Landfill sites require more and more space due to
the amount of plastic being disposed of and this is an area
of concern, particularly as around 80% of plastic is disposed
of in landfill sites with less than 10% currently being
recycled (Environment Agency Report 2001).
Solutions are constantly being sought and although more
and more supermarket chains and retailers are now issuing
biodegradable plastic bags, this in itself can be a problem
as many people might think that it is ok to just throw them
away as they will eventually break down, which is not always
the case. Some of these biodegradable bags rely on sunlight
to break them down so if they are thrown away as part of
household rubbish and end up in a landfill site, they will
not degrade because there is no light.
What you can do to help…
• Re-use plastic bags as much as possible – don't throw
• Buy products with very little packaging
• Try to re-use plastic pots and tubs within the home, for
example to store small items like buttons and screws and
for germinating seeds or donate them to playgroups and schools
for arts and crafts
• Buy refillable products as much as possible
• When purchasing fruit and vegetables at the supermarket,
don't put them into plastic bags – it isn't necessary
• Find out what plastic re-cycling facilities there are
in your own area and use them, encourage your family and
friends to do the same
• Try to buy products made from plastic that has been recycled
Recycling Glass Waste
Glass is an inert substance and so is not directly harmful
to the environment but it is not degradable either so if
sent to a landfill site it will stay there indefinitely
which is a real shame because glass is such an easy and
very useful material which can be recycled over and over
again without any loss to quality.
Recycling glass is easy for the consumer, particularly as
the number of bottle banks and roadside collections of glass
are increasing. By far the most common use for glass within
the home is in the form of bottles and jars and this makes
up around 80% of recycled glass.
When recycling your glass containers, bottle banks often
require the glass to be separated according to colour, which
in itself can be a barrier to recycling as the consumer
has to put in a little more effort, but there are reasons
for this. As you can imagine, it would be a mammoth not
to mention expensive task to separate every bit of coloured
from clear broken glass before processing so there are few
facilities that can currently do this, which is why it is
so important to separate them beforehand.
One of the issues with recycling glass in the UK is that
the UK produces a large amount of clear glass and yet the
amount of clear "cullet" produced (cullet is basically
a collection of broken glass) is low in comparison to the
amount of green cullet. One reason for this is that a lot
of green bottles (wine for example) are imported leading
to a surplus of green cullet and at the same time a lot
of clear glass is exported in the form of spirits. Another
is that a lot of people are still not recycling clear glass
containers other than bottles and this reduces the amount
of clear glass cullet available. However, on a positive
note, mixed coloured glass waste can be used for the building
of roads and in the construction industry so it is important
to recycle ALL glass containers.
Contaminants like metal rings, paper labels, plastic etc.
must be identified and removed from the glass before the
glass can be turned into new containers and much of this
is done using equipment like metal detectors, vacuums, crushers
and also by plain old manual inspection.
What you can do to help…
• Re use bottles and jars within the home
• Where possible, return jars and bottles (milk bottles
• Before recycling glass rinse out all bottles and jars
and remove any tops and metal rings etc. as these can damage
the furnaces used to recycle the glass
• Recycle all glass containers not just drinks bottles,
this can include jars, medicine bottles, glass food containers
and so on
• Make sure when placing glass into a bottle bank that you
put the right colour in the right bank
Making a difference
Surveys have shown that if recycling was made easier, more
people would be willing to recycle. The fact is, it doesn't
take a lot of effort or time to recycle or re-use an item,
only a little initiative, and yet it is one way we can be
sure of making a real difference to the environment and
the world in which we live.
About the Author:
For more information about waste removal
and skip hire please come and visit our site http://www.skiphirepreston.co.uk
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