7 Reasons Why The UK Needs More Recycling Awareness

The UK generates vast amounts of rubbish every year, contributing to landfill and ocean pollution. But are the public aware of the facts? A few simple awareness campaigns could turn the tide.

Whichever way we choose to cut it, landfill waste has become an enormous problem all over the world. While we are all generally encouraged to 'do our bit', it's notable that not everyone in the UK recycles their waste, or is even wise that they're not recycling properly. It’s estimated that UK households create 26 million tonnes of waste each year, of which only 12 million is recycled, the other 14 million goes to landfill.

There should be a government-sanctioned advertisement that pops up on our TV screens frequently and annoyingly, to give people the information they need to not only encourage recycling but to do it more effectively. It’s believed that as much as 80 percent of the things we throw away could be recycled.

Here are the 7 reasons why the UK needs more recycling awareness.

glass recycling in uk landfill
Glass waste in the UK

1. Only 50% of UK Glass is recycled

“The UK has more than 50,000 bottle banks, and each bank is capable of holding 3,000 bottles, yet 5 out of 6 glass bottles are thrown away”. Glass has recently earned its own particular bin in some areas of the UK because the broken glass in a normal recycling bin tends to contaminate other products' usability. But just tossing in a pasta jar or beer bottle isn't enough.

Only around 50% of UK glass is actually recycled when in theory all glass is 100% recyclable over and over again. Unfortunately, glass doesn't decompose either, so it puts strain on landfills when it gets wasted.

A simple advert demonstrating the need to rinse out contaminated content, remove labels where possible, and make sure the glass isn't broken when you throw it away, could make a big difference in the nations' other unusable 50%. For instance: recycling just one glass bottle is enough to power a laptop for thirty minutes!

cardboard and paper recycling in uk
Cardboard being recycled. Source: Waste2Resource

2: People in the UK use 12.5 Mn tonnes of Paper and cardboard

“4 billion trees are cut down every year for paper. That’s one percent of the Amazon rainforest- every single year”. In the UK alone, we use 12.5 million tonnes of paper every year, which I’m given to understand equates to a forest the size of Wales.

We can do so much more to save on paper waste, simply by lowering the demand. People may think they are being good by throwing away takeaway pizza boxes and coffee cups: they're cardboard, right?

But no, contaminated or dirty pizza boxes cannot be reused, which is a shame for their size, and takeaway coffee cups aren't reusable at all, as they have a layer of polyurethane, which makes them waterproof in the first place.

A simple commercial explaining this would save tonnes of unnecessary landfill waste. If there is one item from a bin that is contaminated, the whole bin can be classed as contaminated and made landfill waste. 

UK plastic landfill waste
UK plastic landfill waste. Source: The Guardian

3. About 8 Mn tonnes of plastic is disposed to the ocean every year and only 45% is recycled

It’s no secret that plastic pollution has increased exponentially in the latter part of a century. We now use 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago. 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year, killing millions of sea creatures, seemingly with no end in sight, as it takes 500 years for plastic to fully decompose; even then creating dangerous “micro-plastics” which sea creatures can, and do, ingest further.

While that’s not entirely the fault of the UK, interestingly we only ever recycle an average of 45 percent of our plastics. Plastic rubbish in the countryside is even killing thousands of land animals. A commercial demonstrating some facts and figures about single-use carrier bags could really carry some weight into changing the nations’ wasteful psyche.

Supermarkets in particular would earn my respect by banning plastic carrier bags altogether, and by hanging signs on the door encouraging people to bring their own; or sell bags for life just inside the door. The average UK household throws away 40kg of plastic each year, and it has to stop. Especially when recycling just 5 plastic bottles can make a t-shirt, and 25 can make an adult jacket.

Aluminium can recycling waste in uk
Aluminum can waste

4. A single UK household disposes of 600 Aluminium and tin cans every year

Aluminum cans are a great source of packaging. Incredibly versatile to shape, infinitely reusable without losing any of its' quality, aluminum is a very efficient food storage container material. It can preserve its' contents for months or even years. Yet despite this, not everyone recycles their cans properly (if at all), with 80 million UK cans being rejected and sent to landfills every day.

It's estimated that each UK household uses around 600 cans every year, which with 27 million households, we use 16.2 billion a year. Only around 72 percent of cans sold each year get recycled, which isn't bad but there's definitely room for improvement.

If all cans were recycled we'd need 14 million fewer dustbins. Again, an advert showing these statistics, and demonstrating how to rinse cans out, potentially remove labels and crush cans at home (where possible), would help greatly to bring that 72 percent up to the desired 100.

The UK throws away 7 million tonnes of food every year
The UK throws away 7 million tonnes of food every year. Image source: The ecologist

5. Food waste and cooking oil are the leading contributors to water pollution in the UK

We all throw away food that we've overestimated that we were going to eat, or that has gone past its' sell-by-date, or use-by-date. That bread starting to feel a little bit hard? "Throw it away, get another one". Those bananas looking a bit brown? "Toss them away we'll get some more when we go shopping".

Sausages one day out-of-date? "Sling 'em". Sound familiar? It's thought that each household throws away 20 percent of all food purchased, which makes for some truly jaw-dropping statistics when applied nationwide.

In the UK alone every day we throw away:

  • 1.4 million bananas
  • 3 million unopened yogurts
  • 600,000 eggs
  • 2 million sausages
  • 20 million slices of bread

The UK alone throws away 7 million tonnes of food waste a year, 250,000 of which is still perfectly edible. At least 50 percent could be composted, even if it is inedible, which would contribute greatly to reducing our c02 emissions from unnecessary landfills.

Waste cooking oil is one of the leading contributors to water pollution, with just one liter being able to pollute 1 million liters of drinking water. To me that's a shocking statistic that I've had to find for myself, so why isn't it common knowledge when it's so preventable? We need to be informed of these things for future prevention. 

A full UK landfill site
A full UK landfill site. Source: litter bins

6. The landfill site and the rubbish islands in the UK are 3 times the size of France

The public, in general, needs to be shaken out of recycling apathy. While normal Freeview TV in the UK is currently riddled with hard-hitting adverts with scenes of poverty and cancer to get people to pay to charities, another one is needed for this; given the urgency and benefits to everyone. The best part is: it’s not asking anyone to part with any money.

A bird was killed by eating plastic littering
A bird was killed by eating plastic littering. Source: Indiatimes

As macabre as it sounds, the nation needs to see these dead creatures affected by plastic. Woodland animals eat rubbish from roadsides, making them ill, and birds eat micro-plastics and getting caught in plastic containers in ponds and oceans. All manner of fish and turtles, seals and dolphins caught in nets, debris and detritus in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the other vast swathes of ocean rubbish islands that are 3 times the size of France.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Source: Maritime Herald

Something needs to hit home and call us out on our profligacy, to slow the negative effects on our planet. The UK isn't solely responsible globally, but as a leading so-called 'developed nation, we can do more to set an example and not dump all our waste on poorer nations like Turkey.

The true figures of our yearly landfill waste are staggering, and people need to know that if they recycle everything they can in their kitchen recycling bins they could save enough energy to power a TV for 6 months. Speaking of TV’s: the UK throws away 2 million in landfills every year when they are accepted at most charities and recycling centers.

7. Other daily practices in the UK that needs change and promote recycling

There are so many simple steps we can take to avoid waste. If you get a newspaper regularly, why not subscribe to the app version or watch the news on television? 90 percent of Sunday newspapers are thrown away in Britain, that’s the equivalent of half a million trees. If you get coffee from a machine, why not use your own plastic reusable cup?

Invest in a second kitchen bin purely for recyclables; buy fruit and veg that aren't in cellophane; only buy food you know you'll eat; use recycled paper; buy eco-friendly cleaning products. We can opt for email bills and receipts where possible, use the notepad on our smart devices, or a whiteboard in the kitchen at home so we don't waste paper. The list is endless.

Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth to save liters of drinking water. Invest in a composter and reduce your food waste by 50 percent. Those plastic local takeaway boxes? Use them for your sandwiches and never buy sandwich bags again. And for the love of God: Use your own reusable shopping bags.

Supermarkets can do their bit by hiking up the prices of printer paper, sketchbooks, and jotters to discourage whimsical sales. They can also ban single-use plastic bags.

While not everyone may care about their waste habits, it may well be that many people just simply aren’t aware of the facts and figures of waste, and are willing to help in whatever small way they can. All we need are a few commercials to raise awareness and change mindsets: the world would start seeing the benefits overnight.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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