Plastic Free July – Part Five: The importance of the five Rs

This month, we decided to approach each week of Plastic Free July from one of the five Rs – refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle. 

We took a look at ways governments around the world are refusing plastic through legislation, showcased some amazing local heroes who are reducing their impact, and shared some inspiration from upcyclers who are reusing and repurposing materials.

Each of the 5 Rs plays an important role in creating practical frameworks for building sustainable habits. It’s important to always try your best, and understand that sometimes it’s not always possible to avoid plastic. That’s why the fifth of the five Rs, recycling is crucial to understand.

What’s the issue with sending something to landfill?

There are three big problems with landfilling:

  1. When we recycle something, we prevent the item from going to landfill. Landfills are not designed to break down and decompose materials. Waste is tightly compacted and typically sealed in plastic bags and then buried in the earth. The lack of oxygen means that it breaks down at a much slower rate. It’s still unknown how long it takes, but a plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose, whereas other items of plastics are predicted to break down over 1,000 years. When these materials break down at a slower rate, they release methane, which is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This methane can be continually produced for however long it takes for the materials to decompose – which can be hundreds of years.
  2. Every time we create a new product or material, we need to extract natural resources from the earth. Energy is used not only to extract natural resources, but also to turn them into a new product. When we recycle something, we’re reusing that material, as opposed to extracting new materials from the earth. When something goes directly to landfill, we waste all of the natural resources, energy and material that has been used to create it.  
  3. As landfills break down, they produce ‘leachate’, which is a liquid that is then pumped out of landfills and treated as hazardous waste. However, a lot of landfills leak leachate, which seeps into the ground and can flow into our waterways. Studies have found the presence of microplastics in leachate, which can then be ingested by animals, or even by ourselves. 

What is the benefit of recycling?

One of the greatest benefits of recycling is that it saves energy. According to Stanford University,  manufacturing the second time is much cleaner and less energy-intensive than the first. For example, manufacturing with recycled aluminium cans uses 95 percent less energy than creating the same amount of new aluminium.

Plus, we use fewer natural resources; for instance, when we recycle paper we negate the need to cut down more trees.

What happens when you recycle vs recycling through TerraCycle?

Waste recycled through TerraCycle is often waste that isn’t accepted in your household recycling bin. This is because the items are usually made from hard-to-recycle materials that are often too small or too complex for a recycling facility to handle, so they will be landfilled.

As we reach the end of Plastic Free July, we’re giving you the chance to win a plastic-free sustainability pack so you can continue with your journey all year long. Simply join any of our free recycling programs by the end of the week to go in the draw. You’ll receive one entry for each additional program you join.

PRIZES

At the value of $159.85, the pack includes:

A Flora & Fauna Plastic Free Beauty & Home Box

A TOMbag reusable garbage bag

An OrganiCup menstrual cup 

A Green + Kind bamboo cutlery set

24 pack of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper 

Competition ends 31 July 2021 at 11:59pm. The winner must be based in Australian and will be drawn at random on Tuesday 3rd August, and contacted by email. Should the winner fail to accept their prize by 9 August, a new winner will be drawn.

We hope you’ve had a very happy Plastic Free July, and found some of our tips and advice useful this month to support you at any stage of your sustainability journey.

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