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Recycling: Is it the Ultimate Answer to the Waste Complication?

By Ayush Dev Pant

Recycling achieves the objective of keeping materials out of the landfill by turning them back into raw materials that will be used again to manufacture new products or items. Recycling is a trend followed by extreme use of waste prone materials. Today, the world is inclined towards recycling, which is a very progressive step, but is it the ultimate solution this world needs? 

According a recent study from Science Advance, since the invention of plastic in 1907, 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin (non-recycled) plastic have been produced, generating 6.3 billion metric tons of waste, 79% of which has piled up in landfills while just 9% has been recycled. 

Accenture has stepped up it’s recycling and reusing mechanism. In 2017, Accenture reduced Co2 footprints of employees by 52% with special advancements on reusing and recycling mechanisms.
Intel joined the club with it’s intense focus on e-waste recycling.  They recycled more than 75% of the total waste generated by its operations since 2008. Intel aims to achieve zero hazardous waste to landfill by 2020, and recycling rates of 90% for non-hazardous waste. 

The United States has been facing a backlash in the recycling scenario. In 2011, the United States exported more than $1 billion of recycled plastic, with China accounting for more than half of that total. The total still topped $953 million in 2014. By 2018, that total had dropped in half, to $445.66 million. China’s take was a paltry $21.58 million, or less than 5%. Recyclable paper, paperboards, metal, steel and aluminum have also seen a significant drop down in the level of recycling avenues and outcomes. 

According to a senior environmental ministry official ‘China aims to cut solid waste imports to zero by next year as it looks to reduce pollution and encourage recyclers to treat soaring volumes of domestic trash.’ 

When it comes to E-waste, recycling is not the most effective means. The amount of e-waste produced every year is way higher than the recycling capacity of recyclers and countries. In 2016, Apple came up with Liam, a robot capable of dismantling an Iphone in 11 seconds. That would account for around 1.2 million iPhones recycled every year. It sounds like a feat but in 2015 Apple sold 231 million units of Iphones. 

In 2016, 45 million tons of electronic wastes were produced all over the world. Only 20% of that get recycled and the rest 80% end up in the landfills. The 20% that gets recycled is not necessarily ethical. The high value materials and minerals are extracted from the wastes using chemicals and those chemicals end up getting mixed with different water sources. The current rate of responsible e-waste recycling is at an abysmal 15.5% worldwide. 

India has a huge potential of turning the trash to treasure. A lot of startups have realized the opportunity this industry yields.  The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that implementing circular opportunities in India could yield over $624 billion per annum in material savings by 2050–equivalent to 30% of India’s current GDP. The circular economy deals with designing out the waste and pollution, keeping materials and products in use and regenerating natural systems. 

Accenture has stepped up it’s recycling and reusing mechanism. In 2017, Accenture reduced Co2 footprints of employees by 52% with special advancements on reusing and recycling mechanisms.
Intel joined the club with it’s intense focus on e-waste recycling.  They recycled more than 75% of the total waste generated by its operations since 2008. Intel aims to achieve zero hazardous waste to landfill by 2020, and recycling rates of 90% for non-hazardous waste. 

The EU has taken a major step by deciding to get rid of plastic cutlery, plastic plates and plastic straws by the year 2021. This initiative will play a pivotal role in regenerating life under water in a positive way. Also  the directive of the new regulation may avoid environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion ($24.9 billion) by 2030 and save consumers a projected €6.5 billion ($7.38 billion). 

One of the major issues, the recycling industry faces is ‘waste segregation’. Most of the wastes produced comes from households and people don’t have a proper knowledge or training regarding the issue. If wastes were segregated at source, recycling would be more efficient. In Nepal, different recycling companies are stepping up in the market and are trying to bring the culture of segregating waste at source. 

The amount of waste produced every year is almost impossible to recycle with the existing recycling companies, plants and projects. There is no silver bullet solution to this issue. Either there needs to be more recycling initiatives or least waste lifestyle. The latter seems to be a more sustainable and sensible approach. By the time enough recycling plants are manufactured, we can educate and train enough people to switch to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. The key is not recycling wastes with plants, it’s upcycling the “high waste consumer mindset” and turning it into a sustainable one. 

 

 

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