Recycling is commonly integrated into most homes and businesses across the globe and is often perceived as a trend that is good for the environment, helps reduce the risk of extreme global warming and is beneficial to controlling waste.
Although this is true, there are also many more important reasons why recycling is essential for our future on this planet. It’s essential for us as a society to get to know the process and look up to countries that are world leaders regarding recycling and preserving our nature as much as possible .
The Global Recycling Day campaign says that each year, the Seventh Resource (recycling what we already have) saves over 700 million tonnes in CO2 emissions and supplies 40% of the world’s raw material needs. But there is still so much that could be diverted from landfill that is key to conserving the earth’s six precious primary resources, achieving true sustainability, and tackling climate change relies on effective recycling .
Figure 1: Mountain of Rubbish by the Sea. 
The Journey of Recycling
Recycling as we know it now with regards to government backed initiatives has only really been in full fruition for 50 years.
The ‘chasing arrows’ recycling symbol we all know today was created by a Southern Californian architecture student who was trying to win a contest in 1970, the same year Senator Nelson created Earth Day to force the issue surrounding protecting our environment onto the national agenda.
Prior to this we can look as far back as the 9th century in Japan during the decline of the Japanese Imperial court in the Heian Period, paper production moved away from the state’s control as workers gradually merged into common society. As a result, private estate owners-built paper mills and hired those workers to continue making paper – and it wasn’t long until the process of reusing wastepaper became common, to conserve materials and maximise output .
Global Recycling Facts Today
Our resources are growing exponentially in conjunction with the ever-growing population today. Therefore, it is detrimental for our future of recycling to establish a certain level of control to obtain our society.
Facts surrounding recycling/waste:
- Globally today less than 20% of waste is recycled.
- As countries rise in income level, the number of recyclables in the waste stream increases, with paper increasing most significantly.
- Worldwide, we produce about 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, with some items taking upwards of 450 years to degrade. It’s estimated there is between 75 and 199 million tonnes of plastic currently in our oceans. The UK alone recycles over 350,000 tonnes of plastic a year.
- The UK recycling rate for waste from households is around 43%, with the rest heading to landfill. We have only improved our recycling rate by around 3% in the last decade.
- Glass is one of the most efficient materials to recycle and is cheaper to produce from recovered items than virgin raw materials. Unlike plastic, glass bottles and jars are fully recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without degradation of quality or purity.
- The world generated over 53 million metric tons of electronic waste (e-waste) in 2019, and only 17.4% of this was officially documented as properly collected and recycled.
- Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world followed by South Korea, Austria, and The Netherlands. In the 90’s, Germany introduced the world’s first dual recycling system for collecting waste from households and businesses and in 2020 recorded 67.1% recycling from all municipal solid waste .
Figure 2: Cardboard Boxes Tied up for Recycling. 
The Future of Waste
As the threat of climate change increases, understanding the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ circular economy is a fundamental building block in moving economies towards sustainable futures.
Industries from fashion to fishing to food are re-evaluating their impact on the planet and on the local communities.
The current state surrounding recycling and waste needs to be addressed to establish a system that works on a global scale, such as the following:
- New product design must not only use recycled materials, but also make disassembly and material separation easier, so the cycle can continue as effectively as possible.
- Governments that are lacking in proactivity with recycling need to introduce stricter regulations for industries to ensure end-of-life products are dealt with responsibly and the maximum materials are recovered for re-use and recycling.
- Waste management and recycling infrastructure needs to be supported in developing countries and emerging economies.
- Ongoing investment is needed in the improvement of recycling technologies and collection systems in developed countries.
- More education for the public to ensure domestic recycling is effective – such as cleaning and separating recyclables, composting, and using specialist services for complex end-of-life products such as mobile phones, which often end up in dustbins.
- More work needs to be done by governments with fewer recycling systems in place to recover leaked waste already in the environment, such as plastics in our oceans, which can still be recycled and significantly reducing the amount that ends up in there .
In the UK, for example, the future of recycling and waste material regulations are to be set in place in the upcoming years with the Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging Waste (EPR Scheme), which will see that the full cost of managing household waste shift to producers in the UK, in the hope of delivering a more circular economy for packaging where greater quantities of recyclable waste are reprocessed into valuable, high-quality secondary resources.
The EPR scheme will also change the way in which non-household packaging waste is managed and its reprocessing is financed.
Obligated businesses in the UK should be aware of the following key points:
- From October 2025, producers will have greater financial responsibility for household packaging waste.
- Additional data concerning packaging type and recyclability will need to be collected and reported every 6 months. The first report is due by October 2023.
- Data reporting requirements will become more complex.
- Introduction of eco-modulation of EPR fees* could see producer compliance costs increase if you use hard or costly to recycle packaging from 2026.
- There will be a separate reporting obligation to report packaging supplied by UK nation.
- From 1 April 2026, all packaging (except for flexible films) will need to display a binary recyclability label declaring either “recycle” or “do not recycle”.
*Eco-modulation of fees – The EPR fees obligated businesses must pay will increase or decrease depending on the recyclability of the packaging they place onto the market. Those using difficult-to-recycle, not recycled, or unrecyclable packaging, will likely see higher costs associated with complying with the reformed Packaging Waste Regulations .
For full details regarding the EPR fees in the UK visit this site.
Overall, the sheer speed and scale of recyclable and non-recyclable materials being produced globally is overwhelming for most, therefore it is up to governments to set laws in place for producers of materials to restrict further production.
‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ (and repurpose) should be at the forefront of all industries to enable employment, economies, and business to grow and revolutionise the way we see recycling and waste in the future.
About Pager Power
 Antone Giret – Mountain of Rubbish by the Sea (October 2019) from Unsplash.com. Accessed on 14th Jan 2024. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/garbage-near-forest-7_TSzqJms4w
 Michael Jin – Cardboard Boxes Tied up for Recycling. (September 2019) from Unsplash.com. Accessed on 12th Jan 2024. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/assorted-color-cardboard-box-lot-ET6_fDwZj2U