Posted by: Clean Up the World | 15/09/2009

Waste and Climate change – the importance of recycling

Someone asked me the other day what the point of recycling is? We spend our time diligently separating our recyclables from our non-recyclables and putting them in the correct bins, but does it really make a difference to the big picture?

The simple answer is yes, it does.

We’ve all heard of the three R’s – reduce, re-use and recycle. Recycling is the last resort. Avoiding unnecessary packaging and purchases should be our first priority and re-using items where possible is the next best thing. But, if once you’ve reduced your waste and reused whatever you can, you’re still left with something that needs to be disposed of, if it’s recyclable, make sure it gets recycled – it will decrease your contribution to climate change.

Many of us do recycle and we all know how big a problem climate change is, but I think we often forget the two are related.

Take for example that moment when you’re faced with the decision as to what to do with your rubbish. If you put that bottle or container in the recycling bin, it makes its way to a recycling depot where it is crushed, broken, re-processed and turned into something new.

On the other hand, if you put it in a general rubbish bin the journey is much different. From there it goes straight to landfill, where it becomes a lost resource. That means new materials, and therefore more emissions, are used to create brand new products. While manufacturing goods from recycled materials still requires energy, it is much less than extracting, processing, and transporting virgin raw materials.

Things such as glass and plastics can be recycled scores of times, which means that as well as stopping the rubbish piling up in our landfills, the emissions created and the resources used to produce brand new products are spared.

It may seem inconsequential at the time, but simply improving your purchasing and recycling habits can add up to huge environmental benefits. In fact:

•    The energy saved by recycling one plastic drink bottle will power a computer for 25 minutes.
•    Recycling a glass jar saves enough energy to light a bulb for four hours
•    Recycling one tonne of plastic saves enough energy to run a refrigerator for a month

Clean Up the World members have realised the importance of recycling. In fact, Clean Up the World Member reciclaje ecologico help create a culture of recycling though activities such as re-using objects in new ways – including creating plant holders containing local species of cactus from old shoes, toys and footballs.

Mexico - Ecologia y Reciclaje de Sonora

Mexico - Ecologia y Reciclaje de Sonora

Other activities focused on recycling include those being carried out in Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Paraguay, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

It would be easy to throw our hands up in the air and say the environmental challenges that face us are all too hard, but the reality is they’re not. As these Clean Up the World members are proving, there are things we can all do – simple things like making the right choices when we shop and recycling – that will make a difference.

Climate change is a massive global problem that requires action at all levels. We can’t always control what our politicians do on environmental issues, but we can control what we do in our own homes. So next time you’re complaining about separating your recyclables from your non-recyclables, think about the bigger picture. Everything we do makes a difference – even simple things like putting that empty bottle and container in the recycling bin.

Ian Kiernan AO



  1. I attended a tour of our local recycling facility. I found out that they only recycle the products that China deems valuable. So, even though you sort the recyclable, the facility only recycles those that are profitable. It sounds like this is more about money than the environment.

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