Civilization is built on the foundation of nature’s bounty. Every year, the Earth yields billions of tons of natural resources, which if left uncared for, will eventually run out. Thus, society needs to put sustainability above all else when it comes to envisioning the future.

This is the crux in which the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals 2030 is centered around. For the last century, continued economic and social progress meant environmental degradation — from deforestation to climate change. Indeed, according to the UN, should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

Today with the celebration of Global Recycling Day, there is an opportunity to recognize how these problems can be addressed, and how society at large can decouple the ideas of economic progress from environmental degradation.

Created in 2018, Global Recycling Day aims to promote, recognize, and celebrate, the importance of recycling in preserving the Earth’s precious primary resources and securing the future of the planet. It is a day for the world to come together and put the planet first.

The mission of Global Recycling Day, as set out by the Global Recycling Foundation, is twofold: to impart to world leaders that recycling is simply too important not to be a global issue, and that a common, joined up approach to recycling is urgently needed; and to ask people across the planet to think resource, not waste, when it comes to the goods around us. The second goal is of particular importance because until this happens, recycled goods will never reach the true value and repurpose they deserve in consumers’ minds.

Recycling Heroes
“The Global Recycling Foundation is pleased to announce the theme of Global Recycling Day 2021 as #RecyclingHeroes. This will recognize the people, places and activities that showcase what an important role recycling plays in contributing to an environmentally stable planet and a greener future which will benefit all,” the Global Recycling Foundation said on its website.

“We want to champion Recycling Heroes during a particularly difficult year, and encourage the world to recognize the critical importance that recycling makes to the preservation of our planet,” Ranjit Baxi, founding president of the Global Recycling Foundation, had told media reports.

“Every year on Global Recycling Day, we applaud the innovative recycling practices of our heroes and report what they have achieved to our millions of supporters around the world.”

The awards competition will be launched via social media early next week and Global Recycling Foundation will shortly announce details about how to nominate your #RecyclingHeroes 2021.

The organization maintains that recycling is a key part of the circular economy, a way to protect natural resources. Each year, recyclables — or what could be called ‘the seventh resource’ after water, air, oil, natural gas, coal, and minerals — save over 700 million tons in CO2 emissions and this is projected to increase to one billion tons by 2030. Recyclables also supply 40% of the world’s raw material needs.

In addition, the use of recyclables offsets all CO2 emissions equivalent to that generated by the aviation industry annually. Because less energy is consumed to manufacture and transport products and their packaging, recyclables cause less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to be generated and released into the atmosphere.

The recycling industry further serves as a boost to local employment around the world, with approximately 1.6 million people worldwide employed in processing recyclables. The annual contribution of the recycling industry towards the global GDP is projected to exceed $400 billion in the next 10 years, while $20 million dollars is invested each year by the industry into job creation, improving recycling efficiency and environmental impact.

The Philippines, in particular, could stand to benefit from boosting its recycling sector as the country currently ranks as the third-largest contributor globally to ocean plastic pollution. Much of its solid waste ends up in open dumping sites, allowing leakage into waterways connected to the marine environment. Up to 750,000 metric tons of the country’s plastic waste materials enter the oceans every year, due to mismanagement and the lack of segregation.

Recycling could provide not only an environmentally friendly solution to this problem but also an economically viable one.

“Effectively, what makes recycling a commercially attractive waste treatment practice is the existing stream of recyclable materials, and a formal and informal workforce that can be integrated in the waste management system. It can generate income and livelihood opportunities for communities, and formal and informal waste collectors alike,” Vanessa Pepino, environmental planner and development specialist, wrote for BusinessWorld.

“An efficient recycling industry also minimizes the likelihood that recyclable waste ends up in bodies of water or overstretches the capacity of our landfills. By addressing these gaps, there is now an incentive to properly segregate and collect waste, especially in areas not reached by garbage trucks, and even low-value residuals usually left behind by waste pickers. An incentivized workforce and an airtight system lead to improved quality and quantity of waste collection which in turn guarantees supply for the operations of the recycling industry.” — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran