Recycling helps cut our carbon footprint

Updated: Aug 30, 2018

It’s easy to feel powerless and out of control in the face of climate change. "What can I as one individual do in my everyday life to make a difference?"

For Dame Ellen MacArthur, returning from her round-the-world yacht race in 2005, it was reflecting on the perilous state of the world's finite resources that prompted such a thought.

“I just saw this as the greatest challenge I had ever come across."

MacArthur decided to try and make her difference by giving up competitive racing to set up the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to promote a less wasteful use of resources. Her aim was to encourage the move from a linear economy, in which things are used and then wasted, to a circular one in which they are maintained, repaired, re-used and recycled.

The idea of a circular economy is gaining traction globally. The EU and China signed a co-operative agreement on circular economy policy this June, while businesses including Unilever, Google, Arup, and Nike are now working partners with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. But it’s not just about government and big business. Back to that first question again: what can we do as individuals?

In the words of another seafaring sustainability advocate, solo ocean rower Roz Savage MBE:

“Every action counts. One oar stroke didn't get me very far, but you take five million oar strokes and you end up crossing three oceans. Every single oar stroke was necessary. And so is the participation of every single one of us.”

Take aluminium. Recycling aluminium takes just five per cent of the energy needed to extract it from raw materials – so the energy saved when you recycle a single aluminium can is enough to run a television for three hours.

It’s one oar stroke and it makes a small difference. But when everyone does it, it makes a big difference. Apply the same thinking to steel and glass, which can be recycled time and time again, and the energy and carbon savings start