A cross section of the human brain

Why recycling means more plastic consumption

I've got a confession to make.

You know those little symbols on plastic? I've no idea what they mean.

And don't get me started on the differences between bioplastic and compostable plastic. Or home vs industrial compostable for that matter.

Not a great look for someone who is dedicating their life to fight plastic waste, I know.

But here's the thing: the system is so complicated that I shouldn't feel guilty for not knowing.

And I'll let you in on a little trick of mine: Whenever I use an item of plastic, whether that be a compostable takeaway cup or a supermarket food tray, regardless of whether I put it in the correct recycling bin, I always assume that it's going to end up in landfill. Always.

By assuming it goes straight to waste, I am more conscious of what I consume, so I consume less.

And for the most part, this assumption holds true. 

Recycling rates in the UK are manipulated by exporting our waste to countries where it is just dumped or burned. And each UK council has its own approach to recycling. So actual recycling rates are waaaaay lower than what you might think.

And that's not all.

In fact, data tells us that when an area introduces a recycling scheme, plastic consumption goes up!

Why is that? 

Because there's now a possibility. It's our subconscious telling us that now there is a possibility our plastic might be re-used. Which in turn allows us to justify buying more plastic items to ourselves. It's plain old human psychology. 

It's the same reason why a soldier condemned to death by firing squad would have 5 people shoot at him. It only takes one bullet to kill the man, but with many shooters the executors can assuage their guilt because it might not have been their bullet that was ultimately the fatal one.

A grim, yet illustrative example. It's all about the stories we tell ourselves.

So, what's the point in all this?

Well, it's to be more purposeful with your consumption. It's to not fall for marketing ploys. It's to understand reality, and not live in the story we all invent for ourselves.

That's not to say you should stop recycling at all. Or that recycling doesn't have its place. Just know that recycling isn't the golden bullet it is sometimes made out to be. There's a reason that in the '3 Rs', reduce and reuse come before recycle.

Oh, and if you are interested in learning more about the labels, take a look below (courtesy of Which?):

A chart of plastic recycling symbols in the UK

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