How do we recycle?

Tags: Recycling

We had a discussion on recycling. We talked about what was the last thing we recycled, the greedy neighbours, the apartment strata system and recycling, and the emotions that we recycle. The teacher Eva also shared an interesting thought about teaching recycling to immigrants should be emphasized for a successful integration. The eagerness to recycle shows two aspects of Finland and the Finns: obeisance to the laws and norms of the land, and love for their nature.

In my apartment building there is recycling for waste, cardboard and biowaste, but no separate recycling, for example, for energy waste, electronics or metal. My recycling area is approximately 20 feet away from me, and I’m a dutiful, if not super-enthusiastic recycler.

Recycling, for not any particular reason, does not spring me into action. Even when I am eager to become a sustainable citizen, I find the system and the methods of recycling underwhelming. Hopefully understanding circular economy will provide me new intellectual and ethical cud to chew on, and I’ll muster more interest into this section of sustainability.

I will write on the idea of ‘when you see that a product is wrapped in a plant-based 100% kind of transparent film, do you take into consideration to purchase it or not?’. To be completely honest, I would not have swayed my purchasing decision, as I thought that the producing the bioplastic product would be so energy-inefficient that it would have not provided any real sustainability benefits. But after making a cursory search I did not find anything that suggested production of bioplastics to be any more energy-inefficient than making plastic. Funny how little that I know, and even that can be just plain wrong!

Instead of energy-inefficiency, the biggest issues that reports and bulletins outlined for bioplastics were:
- land use change of clearing out forests for producing sugar- and starch-based feedstocks for production of bioplastics; and
- insufficient end-of-use recycling facilities, for example adequate composting infrastructure and consumer know-how.

If we proceed with ‘business-as-usual’ mentality with clearing tropical forest for growing monoculture bioplastic feedstock and will not provide sufficient recycling mechanism, the sustainability of the whole pursuit will be in doubt.
And that is the beauty and the difficulty of sustainability and sustainable thinking: you must see the produced goods and services as complex systems where you can and have to improve all the facets of the production, logistics, use and end-of-use.
As an example, I did a quick brainstorm on the issues that have to be considered for the bioplastics to be more sustainable pursuit (below).

Sustainable products such as bioplastics are not only agricultural or recycling initiative, it’s initiative for jobs, biodiversity, good health and well-being, education, clean water, climate action, infrastructure innovation, local products, empowerment and partnerships.

Everything is interconnected.

Niilo Montonen (Jan. 2020)