Recycling is a relatively low-effort way to show you care about the environment. Society has taught us that you shouldn’t feel guilty about disposal of that drinks can, that crisp packet or that takeaway box… as long as you put it in the recycling bin at the end of the day. Recycling rates have plateaued in the UK at 44%, and it is thought that figures are overestimated by a third due to incorrect measurement of total waste. If this is the case, the UK would not have passed the EU threshold for recycling before 2012 and may not be much above the threshold even today.
People don’t realise a large fraction of ‘recyclable’ waste material will not be recycled at all. This is partly due to technology constraints, the inability of sorting machinery to process plastic film or detect black plastic, and food contamination in waste. What you put in your recycling bin is still at risk of ending up in landfill or being exported to countries abroad, adding to ever growing marine pollution. In 2016, 7.3 million tonnes of waste was imported into China, primarily from the UK, USA and Japan. This is unethical, dangerous and in some cases unlawful.
Waste export bans threaten UK recycling infrastructure as it may be unable to keep up with a sudden increase in processing demand. An undercover study in a London waste recycling plant found that employees are expected to