There are more and more recycling facilities that are popping up that say they can recycle disposable cups. Some people have said that they don't need to buy a reusable cup because they are starting to recycle coffee cups. That is true, so why should we bother with reusables?
First of all, it requires you to put the empty cup in the particular coffee shops that offer this, when you usually bought the takeaway cup because you weren't sitting in the shop. The chances are that you will put this cup in a normal waste bin. If you do keep the cup to be recycled, it is particularly energy intensive to recycle these materials into something new. This is useful for waste plastic where the item has been used many times over a number of years, and can be made into something new rather than going to landfill. It doesn't make sense to use so much energy into recycling something that was only used once.
We have been told for so long that recycling is the answer, so its understandable that current feeling is to just recycle rather than spend money on more products. However we need to look at the bigger picture, and why recycling is not the answer to disposable plastics. More evidence is coming out which has found that even though we are putting the items in the recycling bins, this is not actually being recycled and the problem isn't going away. SKY news recently found that the UK exports 67% of its plastics recycling!
This is because we don't have the capacity and labour is cheaper abroad, for example in China. But recently China have been refusing our recycling, as it contains so much non-recyclable material that they cannot separate out the waste. This means that the recycling gets sent to places like Thailand, where conditions are not meeting the same welfare conditions as the UK and the plastic is burnt. This creates even more polluting gases into the atmosphere.
Credit: Sky News. Pictured above is the towers of plastic that cannot be recycled.
Even after all of this, this 67% still counts towards our recycling targets, even though it isn't being recycled. We are giving this problem to other countries and what is worse, is that we are celebrating our achievements of reaching the recycling targets. Recycling should be considered a last option, when other solutions cannot be found. We need to change the conversation to how we can REDUCE this waste in the first place. That's where reusable items come in. It is great that coffee shops are introducing discounts for reusing coffee cups, and the recent plastic bag charge has been extremely effective.
Photo credit: @girlforacleanworld (Instagram), sign found at New Leaf C Market, Santa Cruz, California.
However we now need to target the producers of the plastic waste to stop the problem at the root. We need to find alternatives to plastic packaging and not use packaging when its not needed. How many times have we walked into a supermarket and bought fruit and veg that is wrapped in plastic? Who ever thought that cucumbers needed plastic packaging?!? This #plasticfree movement is growing strong and we need to start talking about all the solutions to this problem, not just recycling.
You can watch the full documentary here: