The UK Government has recently stated in its Sustainable Development consultation paper Opportunities for Change that “production and distribution patterns will have to change to reduce emissions, resource use and waste”. How far we have to improve resource use is, of course, a matter of debate, but there is a growing awareness that doing so can bring economic and employment benefits as well as environmental improvement. And every tonne recycled in the UK not only reduces waste here but also cuts down on tonnes of waste generated elsewhere in mining and processing.
The limits to renewable resources are identified by estimating sustainable yield while also ensuring that other functions of the ecosystem are protected. In the case of wood, for example forests play an important role in protecting watersheds, soil stability and biodiversity.
The limits to the use of non-renewable resources are not, as previously thought, the danger of the resources simply running out. Instead, limits have more to do with the environmental impacts of mining and processing resources. Another concern regarding the consumption and use of non-renewable resources is the health impacts associated with their build-up in the environment. This is especially true with metals such as mercury.
Recycling helps the environment because it saves space in landfill sites, and it can reduce pollution substantially, along with innumerable other benefits. We also know that recycling saves energy and raw materials. Recycling aluminium cans, for instance, saves the tropical rainforests from further devastation because these areas are often mined for bauxite (the ore used to make aluminium). Most scientists believe that recycling will go a long way to slowing down global warming. So you can be confident that any recycling you initiate will play a vital role in preserving the Earth’s natural resources.
We can help to reduce the consumption of energy and raw materials used in manufacturing, by reducing the amount of waste we produce, re-using products, and recycling them where possible. At present, consumers in the UK produce about 16 million tonnes of domestic rubbish each year. That’s about 300 kilograms for every person in the country. Currently most of this waste is dumped into landfill sites. Landfilled waste produces the second most important greenhouse gas, methane. The Government is trying to increase the amount of waste that is recycled to 25%. Examples of materials that can be recycled include paper, glass, plastics, clothing, aluminium cans and organic materials such as waste food for composting. There are many council sites which currently collect waste for recycling, and the number is likely to increase in the future.