Recycling versus climate change

Last month, residents of fire-threatened Narooma in New South Wales began to leave their recycling bins outside their houses. This was in an effort to show who had evacuated the town and who remained. From a firefighter’s point of view, the sight of a recycling bin on the pavement in Narooma meant that the house behind it was occupied, and people within may need rescuing from the flames.

However, there was another, more symbolic purpose to the ‘fire bin’ signal. Australia’s recent and devastating bushfires are just one symptom of the current climate crisis. Many in New South Wales (and all over the world) are calling for direct action to be taken to combat the climate emergency. Recycling is one of the most direct, achievable, and effective ways of combatting climate change. Using recycling bins in this way during the fires sent a clear symbolic message: we need to change the way we treat the planet.

It is important that we don’t underestimate the importance of recycling in the climate change debate. There is a lot of discussion around climate change focusing on direct emissions. Due to this, the aviation industry gets a lot of attention. And that’s not wrong, but we should also be focusing on our quick-fix, throwaway consumer culture. Changing our attitudes towards waste could make a massive difference to the state of the climate.

For example, the fashion industry alone produces 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually. So, something as simple as mending, re-cycling, or up-cycling garments could take millions of tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere. And this isn’t a standalone example.

Studies have shown that landfill and deforestation are responsible for 25% of all greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Plastics are an even bigger problem. If we continue to create and discard plastics at our current rate then, by 2050, emissions from the plastics industry could reach more than 2.75 billion tons per year. The primary purposes of deforestation and plastic production is to create new resources. If we become better at re-using and repurposing the resources we already have, we could make a huge difference to the climate emergency.

Climate change is not yet irreversible, but we’re at a tipping point. With Australia on fire, much of Britain underwater, and scientists warning of severe climate events for decades to come, it’s time to take direct action against our climate emergency. And no action is more direct than recycling.

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