How far is recycling the answer to the problem of waste?

With the rise in world population and consumption, the problem of waste has worsened. In our attempt to curb this problem, solutions such as recycling, using of landfills and incinerators, educational campaigns and regulations have been widely adopted. In my opinion, recycling is certainly one of the answers to the problem of waste. However, inherent problems such as the high cost of recycling and advanced technology have made recycling economically unfeasible especially for the less developed countries. Nevertheless, recycling as compared to other ways to minimize the problem of waste is much more environmentally friendlier and is least objectionable. As such, I feel that recycling must be adopted and used in tandem with other measures such as educational campaigns and laws. These solutions would then be able to complement as well as supplement the limitations of recycling, making the approach to the problem of waste a more effective one.

Recycling can be a feasible answer to the problem of waste but it is mainly targeted at developed countries that possess the necessary advanced technology and are able to afford the high costs associated with recycling. Despite the advancement in technology, recycling today is still an expensive tool as compared to other measures like land filling and incineration. Therefore to less developed nations, recycling is simply economically unfeasible. According to the Genuine Progress Index, a research group that has spent a decade monitoring the recycling programmes in Nova Scotia, recycling cost the province US$18 million a year more as compared to throwing the waste into landfills. Similarly in California and New Jersey, local public utilities authorities have reported that recycling cost the country over half a million dollars more in 1995. Hence to the less developed countries, recycling is simply beyond their reach due to the population’s generally low average income, preventing them from affording recycling programmes in their budgets. Even though recycling may be a feasible answer to the problem of waste to the developed countries, this is certainly not the case for the less developed countries. In this light, technology must improve to reduce the cost of recycling before it can be embraced even by less developed countries.

Recycling can be a viable solution to the problem of waste in the environmental sense because, relative to other methods, it creates less pollution and is more sustainable over a longer period of time. Over the years, the magnitude of environmental degradation has increased, and with global warming, recycling, a method that is environmentally friendly seems least objectionable as compared to other conventional forms of waste treatment. For example, incineration releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other toxic gases into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming and adversely affecting our health. Similarly, land filling can result in water pollution and affects the ecology negatively. Greenpeace, a world environmental research group, discovered that the major wells in the Philippines contained a high level of metal content beyond the safe drinking limits set by the World Health Organisation. This unfortunate pollution would not have occurred if not for the landfills situated near the wells. The metals buried in the landfills managed to dissolve and seep into the ground water, causing water pollution. In this light, it is rather clear that recycling is a much better tool to solve the problem of waste. This is because studies have shown that for every ton of paper recycled, 17 small trees are saved and air pollution is greatly reduced. An example to illustrate the environmental- friendliness of recycling can be seen in the success of recycling programmes in the United States. The country managed to save 1.3 million tons of iron ore, 8.2 million trees and successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions by two million metric tons in 2004 due to the nationwide recycling programmes that the country implemented. Therefore, in my opinion, recycling is certainly a good answer to the problem of waste especially in today’s world, where environmental conservation is increasingly embraced by most countries.

Recycling is certainly one of the viable answers to the problem of waste in countries with limited land. Recycling as compared to landfills takes up less space and is therefore suitable for countries with a small land area. A good example to illustrate the influence of physical factors on the choice of measures to the problem of waste is Singapore. Singapore has a limited land area but an escalating quantity of waste. There was a 2.09 million tonnes increase in the amount of waste from 1970 to 2005. To make things worse, the lifespan of the Pulau Semakau landfill of Singapore is expected to last till only 2030, and this is provided that the present generation does not generate more waste per capita. Hence the country implemented the National Recycling Programme in 2001 to minimize the amount of waste disposed to the limited landfills, prolonging the lifespan of the landfills. By 2004, the rate of participation by households in this nationwide programme has more than tripled to 51%. Therefore from the example of Singapore, it is evident that recycling is indeed a feasible answer to the problem of waste since it occupies less space as compared to conventional measures like landfills. Hence recycling is certainly one of the solutions to the problem of waste in developed countries that has limited land area.

Although recycling is one of the least objectionable answers to the problem of waste, it has to be used in tandem with campaigns and laws that tackle the root of the problem – the excessive wastage of resources. The over-consuming societies of the developed world will continue to waste more resources excessively if recycling is not encouraged, made more convenient or appealing as an option. In Singapore for instance, the National Environment Agency (NEA) organizes road shows and puts up posters to encourage recycling. In addition, NEA together with the Singapore Environment Council implemented ‘Bring Your Own Bag Day’ to further strengthen their activities. An additional 10 cents is charged on these days for every plastic bag used, and the money collected is used for environmental projects. Similarly in China, the government has taken a step further to ban the use of disposable plastic bags nationwide due to the massive problem of accumulated unbiodegradable waste caused by plastic bags. In the UK, the British government has passed a bill indicating that charges would be imposed on single-use carrier bags unless retailers take action voluntarily to cut down on the ballooning pollution caused by the use of plastic bags. These are just some examples to illustrate the idea that in order for recycling to be effective, consumers have to be educated and informed on the consequences of excessive wastage of resources and how they can play a role to minimize the problem of waste.

Furthermore, law and regulations should also be introduced and passed to prevent the problem of waste from intensifying. Other complementary measures would be to make using reusable bags and the recycling of materials more attractive, such as saving costs on bags or even making recycling bins more accessible. Hence while I agree that recycling is one effective answer to the problem of waste, it has to be used simultaneously with educational campaigns and regulations as that would complement recycling and mitigate its limitations.

Recycling is certainly a good solution to the problem of waste. However, we must acknowledge that due to the high costs and advanced technology needed for recycling, developed countries are therefore in a better position to embrace recycling as compared to far less developed countries. Although recycling is suitable for small countries with small land area and is more environmentally friendly, it does not eliminate the underlying cause to the problem of waste. Hence recycling should be implemented together with educational campaigns and regulations for it to be most effective.


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