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Our landfill space is shrinking and new government initiatives have been put in place to ensure that as much as possible of our waste is recycled and reused. Despite all of these efforts, it was recently revealed that each day, nearly 16 million plastic bottles are going into the rubbish instead of the recycling bin. With estimations that a staggering 29bn bottles could be going to landfills each year just 4 years from now, there is no question that something needs to be done.
One reason cited by many experts for why so many plastic bottles are going to landfill is public perception. A popular notion seems to be that many plastic bottles are unable to be recycled due to their past content. This unjustified fear speaks to the notion that bottles used for products such as bleach and detergent will end up contaminating the plastic of any new bottles made.
Another issue relating to the lack of plastic bottle recycling is down to poor education regarding the practice. Many British consumers cite confusion over what can and cannot be recycled as their reason for not recycling plastic bottles. Another issue which is likely to be compounding the problem is the fact that no two councils collect recycling in the same way. Collection days are another area of misunderstanding among some residents, who say they are unsure when recycling should be set out for collection.
It seems a lack of transparency with the waste and recycling process may also be contributing to the issue, at least according to a recent survey. The survey revealed that 73% of the 1,500 adults surveyed would appreciate more transparency with regard to waste management, and expressed a low level of trust with the local authorities in charge of collection facility management.
When all of the above points are considered, it is easy to see how so many plastic bottles miss the recycling facility and go straight to landfill.
There are a wide range of possible solutions that may be implemented to ensure that more plastic bottles get diverted to recycling instead of rubbish bins.
Given that so many consumers expressed confusion about what kinds of plastics can be recycled, it only makes sense that this information be communicated more clearly. This could be done with each council in the form of an information sheet that talks about those items which can be recycled. The sheets can be left in recycling boxes following pick-up and made available to residents at council offices. Should a household include incorrect items in their recycling box, another notice could be left to remind them about suitable items for recycling. Smartphone Apps, such as Binfo, are helping improve the situation also.
Too many residents are unaware that, should a single non-recyclable item be included in a bin of recyclables, the bin in question becomes contaminated and requires much time and resources on the part of the council to sort through.
More effort from government
Many people and businesses are of the opinion that the government can do much more to help, beginning with its recycling policy, which allows for continued public misunderstanding about the recycling process.
Just as the problem of plastic recycling has many facets, so too does the solution, as every collection location is different. But one fact remains true for all: that a shift in thinking from ‘replace’ to ‘reuse’ needs to occur if the problem is to be addressed.