Recycling has been around for decades and has been one of the most common place strategies to deal with waste, especially in big cities, and one of the oldest measures when it comes to sustainability.
The idea behind it is that if we use the products and afterwards we recycle them we are putting less demand for raw materials, reducing the need to produce new materials for new products. A seamless simple and effective method, which should from one side reduce the need for new materials and from the other side deal with the waste materials that are not usable anymore.
By definition, recycling is a great idea, there are several downsides to recycling though that should be kept in mind, here are some:
Recycling tends to lead to lower quality materials every time that the material is recycled
Recycling can be unsustainable if it engages in uses of other resources, good examples would be the need for the transformation of the product and its transportation. Recycling is often subsidized to countries where labour is cheaper in order to reduce it’s financial costs, increase the environmental impact.
Still in the EU a high percentage of the products are not recycled
To the last point, the EU has introduced multiple waste policies and targets since the 90’s, namely the target to have 50% of the municipal waste recycled and prepared for reuse by 2020 for at least four categories (paper, glass, metals and plastic).
Currently (June 2019) the assessment of the goal is labeled as yellow, being unknown the capability of many of these member states to reach the goal. Currently, and with one year to go, only six countries (Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium) are meeting this requirement, with many other being still quite far from the 50% goal.
In practicality what this means is that a lot of the municipal waste is still not recycled, ending up in landfills. The idea is good, we are just not there yet, so, for the time being our main recommendation is to avoid consumption altogether, when possible.