Why Recycling Alone Is Not Enough To Save The Planet

Posted by Kritika Matolia in Environment, Society
June 15, 2018

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that we are recycling all the plastic that humans consume at full swing. Fast forward a few 100 years – all the packaging consumed by humans for the last hundreds of years have been recycled to make more things with plastic. Furthermore, many new plastics have also been introduced over the years.

Now imagine – the roads are made of plastic to make them durable and to put plastic to a good use. But eventually, when all the roads on the face of the earth are made of plastic, where do we put the rest of our plastic? Moreover, when we converted our plastic into raw material for making roads, we also prevented groundwater percolation. So, now we have a low water level, and trees lack water for consumption.

Many of the other products we use are also recycled ones, but there will never be an end to new plastics entering our consumption cycles. Let me explain why.

So this is how recycling works: our brooms, electrical appliances, stuffing in pillows and upholstery, furniture and many other products have a component of the recycled plastic. Once they wear out, they may or may not be recycled further. So, the ‘unrecyclable’ plastic that is hanging at the end of its life has to be eventually put to rest at the landfill.

A product may be made from 100% recycled material, but all the material sent for recycling is never recycled up to 100%. A part of it always remains unrecycled depending on the type of plastic. Only about 29% of some varieties of plastics are currently recycled in the US. This figure may grossly vary in other countries – and in a country without any recycling plants, this may well be 0%. Besides, the recycling percentage for lower varieties of plastic may be much lower than 29%.

So, if the human race and/or other species survive for a couple more millennia, we might see a day when we have covered the entire planet with plastic that can’t be recycled any further. The other possibility is that before such a day arrives, we will have to take away the land from people, animals and plants to bury all the plastics we constantly consume – and thus, stop life from existing.

 So what can we do?


Have you ever been to a hotel and found those mini-bottles packed with toiletries that you picked up out of temptation and never used again? Or have you ever been to a party where you were given a gift for coming but you couldn’t refuse it? Or the time when you were given a complimentary item at a store or restaurant and took it only because it was free of cost?

Don’t be embarrassed – we have all done these things at some point in time. But if one were to think about it, these things served no better purpose than creating waste. So the next time you encounter something similar, refuse the things you do not need. If you think that by refusing too, you might be creating waste, remember that the person who gave it to you might give it to a more needy person. Even if they throw it away, it sends a subtle message that you don’t need it – and some of those people might reevaluate their actions of giving freebies.

Reduce Your Consumption Of Disposables, Especially Plastics And Other Polymers, Slowly

Start by cutting out the ‘easiest-to-get-rid-of’ plastics – bags, straws, packaged food that are super easy to make at home, cutlery, plates, cups, disposable boxes and mineral water bottles.

1. Reuse

This is the simplest and most convenient way to reduce our plastic consumption. Ask for hand-me-downs from friends and families. There’s no need to be shy when it comes to saving our planet.

Reuse boxes, containers, bags rather than buying new items every time. Buy second-hand stuff (only if you like the quality). Buy grains, pulses in reusable boxes rather than packaged ones. There are many local stores who sell the ‘loose’ variety. Check the quality with your own eyes and use your own judgment. Seek help and training from highly-qualified moms (don’t intend to stereotype here, but they are indeed brilliant at this) or dads (if you have one with a great eye for detail) to select a good product.

2. Vote from our wallet

It simply means that as consumers, we show the producer what we want by purchasing sustainably. If we reduce or remove the demand for an unsustainable product, we will indirectly affect its production. We need a mass consumer movement for that.

3. Purchase from local producers

Purchase snacks from local producers. This will create a sustainable source of income for them too. There are many people who make snacks at their homes. Make your expectations clear to them while ordering, and give them reusable boxes to fill your order. This is easily possible in India. Find local shops that provide items you require – like dairy products, meat, vegetables. Purchase those rather than packaged products.

4. Write to the producers

See a problem? Write to the company that is creating that problem. Tell them your concerns and ask for a change in the way they deliver and pack their products.

In fact, there are a few producers who have changed the way they deliver and package products to make themselves sustainable. So, others too can do it. To create a better voice, get more people to sign on your letters or emails – or better still, start a campaign. Take one step at a time or you might burn yourself out (like how I felt in the beginning) by the efforts. We need sustained efforts and not people who give up our planet’s health.

5. Join a group to seek guidance

The zero-waste movement is going on around the world with the aim to cut down household wastes to a minimum. The aim is to produce no waste at all.

It’s highly ambitious but nevertheless, it’s also a great source of hope, if it becomes a mass movement. Minimalism is another way of living that aims to reduce one’s possessions to a bare minimum, thereby simplifying our lifestyle and saving the environment.

There are groups of ‘zero-wasters’ and minimalists on Facebook, which can help you get started you on this journey, which can often be overwhelming in the beginning. Ask questions, seek suggestions and help on these groups – and there will be tons of people ready to help.

6. Start a co-op or group to exchange products

Within the Facebook groups or your locality or friend circles, you can find like-minded people. Together, you can select products that each of you can make in bulk and share with the rest of the group. This helps in reducing the burden of making a lot of things on one person alone. Instead, it creates a culture of sharing and gifting.

As a group, you could also decide, in advance, if you would prefer selling the stuff rather than gifting or sharing if these options are a costly bet for you. See what works best for your group.

7. Start or find a party supply or crockery bank

With the zero-waste movement, many people have started a crockery bank, wherein they lend a set of plates, bowls, and cutlery for parties. If you are a part of a Facebook group, you may find people who lend through their banks. Or you can also start your own bank with your friends in your society. This will also help build a community spirit among your group members.

8. Tell others

No movement can be successful if it doesn’t have an audience. Tell others about it – incessantly and consistently. Even if you can pass on the wisdom to a few, they will pass it on to a few more – and together, a group can be a driving force for change.

Go rescue our planet from the toxic plastic monster and share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.