We must pay more than just lip service to see real environmental change

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:

The second annual Global Recycling Day, held on 18 March, invited us all to think about just how much we can be doing to effect positive environmental change.

There is no doubt that the wheels of change are turning – as we have seen in the recent climate strike, more and more people are becoming increasingly concerned with the state of the environment and the future of our planet. However, the reality is that current recycling efforts are simply not good enough.

Global Recycling Day was launched in 2018 to encourage the world to think ‘Resource not Waste’ – the idea that recyclables must be viewed as our Seventh Resource, and to help recognise, and celebrate, the importance recycling plays in preserving our precious primary resources and securing the future of our planet.

While the day serves as a celebration and platform from which to promote recycling, it is crucial that if we are going to make any environmental impact we must continue to promote recycling 365 days a year.

As a result of this, in October 2018 the Global Recycling Foundation was born with the mission of supporting educational and awareness programmes, and raising funds to promote research and development initiatives that focus on the sustainable and inclusive development of recycling.

The creation of the Global Recycling Foundation is a crucial step in securing the long-term future of Global Recycling Day and other initiatives aimed at the promotion of a global and united approach to recycling.

Recycling is a collective endeavour, and as climate change is the major, overriding, environmental issue of our time, no-one can act in isolation – it is imperative we engage the widest population possible, from world leaders to businesses and individuals.

Humans have consumed more resources in the past 50 years than in all previous history (according to the US Environmental Protection Agencyin 2009), and the UN has warned that we have just 12 years to reverse the damage to the climate that has already caused.

Recycling and reducing climate change are linked in many ways. The reduction of CO2 emissions is paramount to the fight against climate change, and recycling has been shown to save over 700 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, according to a Bureau of International Recycling study.

Recycling helps to tackle climate change and promote sustainable economic growth due to the fact that less energy is required in the manufacturing of products using recyclable raw materials, helping to save CO2 emissions, and less waste is sent to landfill, meaning a decrease in greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

If we are to see real, tangible results from recycling within this 12-year timeframe, we must unite our efforts. It is not enough any more to simply raise awareness of recycling; it is imperative that producers and recyclers work together to streamline processes and create a globally consistent approach.

It is clear that brands are eager to engage with recycling – on Global Recycling Day this year we saw a multitude of brands support the sentiment of the day, including Nespresso, L’Oréal, Pepsi Co EU and Walkers Crisps, the latter using the day to promote its own pioneering crisp packet recycling scheme.

Global Recycling Day 2019 was an immense success, reaching further and wider than ever before. So, while we are proud of the important conversations Global Recycling Day has ignited, brands and manufacturers must put their money where their mouth is, investing in fully recyclable and sustainable packaging designs, and work with consumers to ensure that when their products reach their end of life, they are being correctly recycled.

The reality is that steps to date have been small and slow, and we are barely making any impact in rectifying the damage we have already caused. I want to urge the change-makers across the world to work with foundations with an interest in sustainability that represent the practice of recycling globally – such as the Global Recycling Foundation – to implement radical and transformative change worldwide.

It is essential that governments, NGOs, private and public businesses, environmentalists, economists, entrepreneurs and innovators around the world continue to invest in and support the growth of recycling industries. We must band together to find new solutions and fast – time is of the essence and only collectively can we make a difference.

Ranjit Baxi is president of The Bureau of International Recycling

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