For many years now, climate change supposes a big threat to all of us since it affects every corner of the world and makes us think of all issues it causes in our daily lives more often than not, it also makes us wonder who is to be blamed for its bigger impact every year; however, the solutions are much scarce. Some of the most popular solutions are reduction, recycling, and composting, which is another form of recycling (EPA) yet because of its popularity and easy way of action to take part in for every person and age, it made me wonder if recycling was actually such a successful method and therefore it made me wonder, can recycling stop climate change?
While conducting my research I wanted to first focus on which countries were most affected by climate change and thus see if recycling has become a way of acting within the community, I found out that while climate change is severely affecting most African countries a majority of people in countries with the largest population such as Nigeria don’t know about the issue (Edem E. Selormey and Carolyn Logan, 2019). However, not everyone is bound to the same ignorance since in Gambia Isatou Ceesay, activist and social entrepreneur who was awarded a TIAW “Difference Maker” in Washington, DC realized plastic was 20% of all waste in the country, where despite the toxic fumes, women even use it in charcoal stoves (Max Riche). She founded a community recycling project called the “Njau Recycling and Income Generation” where she uses all types of waste such as plastic, rubber, and even old cassettes, and turns them into fashion accessories like purses and necklaces and even strong long life bags (Mike Webster, 2014). Today, Ceesay teaches women how to continue to create for the health of their country and the wealth of their community, while she also keeps on fighting to share with the government and therefore bring much-needed awareness (BBC Capital).
Surely, not only the Gambia has started to change the world since Sweden, as today, is one of the most motivational countries working against the threat of climate change, where its community shows outstanding solidarity. Even if Sweden counts with less than 0.2 percent of total global emissions its goals are as astonishing as wanting to reduce GHG emissions from what it was in 1990 by 40 percent this 2020 as for energy, in 2005 Sweden's government created a tax relief to power related industries for them to help reduce energy use in exchange. Actually, the OECD Environmental Performance Review 2014 stated that Sweden is one of the leading countries coming up with environmentally friendly technologies such as biofuels, smart grids, etc. (Sweden tackles climate change, 2018).
Looking at all the amazing initiatives Sweden has taken, where does recycling take part? Well, Sweden counts with the outstanding number of 47% of all plastic recycled since each person every year recycle about two tons of waste and popular stores such as H&M give the opportunity to recycle your old clothes, granting the people with a discount. Not only that, but Sweden looks up to teaching people about the necessity of recycling by giving people money back when they do as simple as recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles, this initiative has made it possible for the country to recycle yearly 1.8 billion bottles and cans (Dominic Hinde, 2019).
In addition to Sweden’s brightness, Germany is also takes part as one of the most recycling-aware countries having a recycling rate of 79 percent. Not only that but in 2015 Germany's waste volume was 402.2 million metric tons, and from that 317.7 million were recycled just like Sweden, Germany counts on amazing technology that takes advantage of our planet’s natural resources such as solar, wind, biomass, and hydro energy. To support this culture of recycling among the German communities, they also do simple things such as putting a green dot outside packaging to remind people the material can be recycled and put on the streets in recycle bins, which we can’t often see in United States (Brian Bradshaw, 2017).
Moreover, Neil Seldman Ph.D. and director of the Recycling and Economic Growth Initiative, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and also a member of the ILSR’s Board of directors talk about how there’s also the doubting side of recycling in the United States case, where China was accepting recyclable materials of any quality yet due to its high levels of pollution the country released a policy against any incoming recyclables. In addition to this issue, recycling is an alternative to landfills and incineration, yet United States' methane emissions are mostly caused by landfills. Our country also counts with a low rate of barely 35% of materials recycled (Skarimi, 2019). This is strongly affected by companies mainly incinerating and landfilling their waste, this is one of the main reasons people are so discouraged to recycle since the industries, with much more power than them to make a change, don’t really do anything for the world. Most of these companies make much more money from incinerating and landfilling, thus because of the economic problem they choose to claim that recycling doesn’t really help, their irrefutable power among our economic balance and the people not accustomed to recycling makes an endless loop of issues (Neil Seldman, 2018)
Going deeper into China’s new policy is important to know that thanks to this dependency with the other country we had good global trade in materials this change caused mainly also because of that dependency has caused the loss of money for companies such as Don Slager, chief executive of Republic Services who states he will lose around 150 million dollars due to China’s new policy. Before the ban, Japan was a big exporter to China yet as of today, the situation is completely different as Eric Kawabata, general manager for Asia-Pacific with TerraCycle states “Now all this trash is building up in Japan and there’s nothing to do with it; the incinerators are working at full capacity.” This is a perfect explanation for all the landfilling going on in the US since now whatever waste cannot be traded to China has no place to be put, actually, in 2018 the country exported Varley less than 30 percent of plastic. Due to these challenges, Asian countries that are also suffering from the new policies and higher amounts of waste end up in actions such as illegal recycling companies. Community in Thailand around New Year usually see trucks full of electronic waste and He Jia Enterprise began to burn plastic e-waste for the copper they could extract from it, this not only heavily endangers the planet but also the people in Thailand, where some villagers say to feel faint from the fumes. Ellen MacArthur, who launched the environmental group the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says, “We have not been successful at recycling. After 40 years of trying, we have not been able to make it work.”(Leslie Hook and John Reed, 2018).
As for my personal opinion, I came with a biased mind, since I have always been raised with the thought that recycling it’s the best and easiest way to take care of our planet, however, I had never made any research about the true background of what this initiative supposes. I didn’t know how much money costed recycling since I had the ignorant assumption that recycling was what made the money for the country, not what took from it. I read this data with open eyes, and I see that the world could change and the climate could be appeased if only both the people and big corporations weren’t so ignorant and biased towards their own purposes. I believe recycling can stop climate change, but for that, the whole world needs to act and stop depending on other countries or expecting other people within the community to act instead of them. Such as Sweden, Gambia, and Germany, I believe we could change our ways of doing things.
- EPA. “Reduction and Recycling: A role in Preventing Global Climate Change”, https://archive.epa.gov/region4/rcra/mgtoolkit/web/html/climate_change.html
- Max Riche. “Isatou Ceesay, Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia”, https://climateheroes.org/heroes/isatou-ceesay-queen-plastic-recycling-gambia/
- Mike Webster, 2014. “How a small African recycling project tackles a mountainous rubbish problem.” https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/01/small-african-recycling-project-tackling-mountainous-rubbish-problem
- BBC CAPITAL,” Protecting the environment: waste-to-wealth schemes” http://www.bbc.com/storyworks/capital/moving-africa/environment
- Skarimi, 2019. “Does Recycling Help the Climate?” https://www.greenamerica.org/blog/does-recycling-help-climate-crisis
- Neil Seldman, 2018. “Single Stream Recycling: Explaining the Waste Knot” https://ilsr.org/explaining-the-waste-knot/
- Leslie Hook and John Reed, 2018. “Why the world’s recycling system stopped working” https://www.ft.com/content/360e2524-d71a-11e8-a854-33d6f82e62f8
- Dominic Hinde, 2019. “The Swedish recycling revolution” https://sweden.se/nature/the-swedish-recycling-revolution/
- Sweden.se, “Sweden tackles climate change”, 2018. https://sweden.se/nature/sweden-tackles-climate-change/
- Edem E. Selormey and Carolyn Logan, “African nations are among those most vulnerable to climate change. A new survey suggests they are also the least prepared.” 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/09/23/african-nations-are-among-those-most-vulnerable-climate-change-new-survey-suggests-they-are-also-least-prepared/
- Brian Brassaw, “Germany: A Recycling Program That Actually Works” 2017. https://earth911.com/business-policy/recycling-in-germany/