Recycling Kills Consumers Guilt

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Spring 2016

Does recycling diminish responsible consumption?

There are many studies about the environmental impacts of waste heading to landfill and with a growing number of events held in the UK is recycling the only answer. Like all businesses the events industry is sustained by profit and therefore encouraging consumers to consume more, equals more profit. As Events Managers look to increase profits are the sustainability factors other than simply profit being ignored?

Currently It is estimated that at most UK events only 15% of total waste is actually recycled this has been deemed  both economically and environmentally unsustainable in the long term.  Many council’s across the UK are already increasingly concerned by waste produced at events, producing guides for event managers on how to manage waste at their events. As a waste producer, an event has a duty to ensure all waste, including recyclable and compostable material, taken off site is handled and processed in accordance with the law.

The government has also tried to set the standard for events with London 2012 Olympics being the first ever zero waste to landfill Games. Despite Zero waste events being possible education of attendees is key. With the availability to recycle leading consumers to feeling it’s morally okay to consume vast quantities of products without the feeling of guilt. This is because that empty bottle, beer can or cardboard snack container is being recycled. Consumers may view the ability to recycle a product as a “get out of jail free card” that makes consumption more acceptable (Bolton, Cohen, & Bloom, 2006)

Glastonbury festival is an example of gluttonous consumption by consumers with about 2,000 tonnes of rubbish created. The organisers work hard to recycle with recycling rates of over 50% and for 2016 have looked at ways to reduce the amount of rubbish requesting attendees to bring reusable water containers rather than buy disposable ones which create a large quantity of the festivals rubbish.

So it looks like Events are doing their part for recycling but when you look into the figures around 43 percent of waste in the UK in 2013 was recycled, but 70 percent of that was send to China where the commodities which are valuable were extracted and then sent to landfill. DEFRA figures show that we recycled 610,000 tonnes of plastic in 2011 but almost 427,000 tonnes of that went to China. Despite under European law it is illegal to export waste it is not illegal to export recycling and therefore companies can exploit this loophole for profit. The problem also exists that the Chinese developing their own recycling systems, so at some point they may not want to import these commodities leaving the UK with recycled goods which we have no demand for.

Contaminated recycling such as paper which is dirty or soiled and bottles covered in mud are often rejected by sorting centres and then send to landfill anyway this is because the cost of cleaning these items means it’s not financially viable to recycle them.  Many of the hundreds of Festivals held in Britain are held outside in fields or parks and a great deal of rubbish at events is thrown on the floor meaning they are likely to end up contaminated with mud amongst of foreign objects leading to rejection at recycling plants. It’s reported in the media that about one 5th of the recycling sent to sorting plants falls into this class, so educating attendees that recycling needs to be clean and uncontaminated would help increase the viable recycling and therefore the impact on landfill.

If event managers were to educate attendees on the issues with recycling would this really change the consumers view, possibly or is it more of a nationwide issue which should be addressed by the government? Event Managers could look at consumption at their events and look to limit the amount of goods given to the consumer which will need to be recycled.

Maybe the only true way to truly recycle is to impact the way attendees consume, reducing the waste produced at events rather than just focus on the amount of waste recycled.


Jess says:

This is a great article! It is always commented on in the aftermath of Glastonbury what a mess is left behind. With the amount of festivals and events we hold in Britain it would be a great start to reinforce the need for recycling, and for more effective recycling strategies from the government. The amount of useless packaging used for consumer goods is disproportional to what is actually needed and something needs to be done about it.

Thanks for your comment Jess, as discussed the government needs to be more aware of the different influences on the recycling trade and therefore help consumers and event managers be more sustainable.

anthony says:

This is a great article which actually exposes the truth on where our wastes are really going! Unfortunately certain companies in this industry exploited the international and European laws to derive and wiggle around the rules. It’s a shame because if there is a marketing on recycling why isn’t the marketing invested in the UK to boost our economy and a safer way to prevent toxic waste during shipment. The law on wastage will only be enforced if a natural disaster occurred….

Thanks Anthony for your comment, As with any law certain individuals will always take advantage, the blog is designed for event managers to think of other ways to make an event sustainable not just rely on standard procedure without thinking of the impact after their waste is sent to a recycling plant.

Lianne says:

Wow! I had no idea how much of our waste was exported.
I think you’re so right in how recycling can help consumers feels less guilty about their consumption habits. When you really get down to it, we need a longer term solution but with a growing trend in hedonistic consumption we need role models who will pare things back and show the public that sometimes less is more.

Thanks lianne for your comment, I agree a role model to promote the issue would be a good way to promote the cause.

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