The Loop

I’ve been postponing this edition for too long, but yesterday, something finally triggered me to get to work.

Google announced that recycling was the #1 Googled sustainable action, globally in April 2024. And I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing. Here’s why:

On the one hand, it’s great that people want to learn how to live a more sustainable life.

On the other hand, this shows that our idea of a sustainable lifestyle is just wrong.

Recycling has been sold to us as a silver bullet for decades, but the results speak for themselves: Globally, only 7% of all the world’s resources are cycled back into the economy.

Recycling doesn’t guarantee much:

a) not everything that people separate is sent for recycling

  • Waste management companies post-separate our trash and pick the most valuable pieces. The rest is dumped away.

b) Not everything sent for recycling gets recycled.

  • There are huge losses during the mechanical process itself (with plastic bottles, up to 25%).

c) Not everything that gets recycled is given this magical eternal life, over and over.

  • Most of the materials get recycled once or twice before we lock them in products that are destined for a landfill. Like baby diapers. It’s actually downcycling.

What recycling does is that it gives us the illusion that we can carry on, business as usual, as if there’s no tomorrow.

It makes us think that there’s no limit to our consumption and production.

As long as we throw it away in the right bin, everything will be OK, right?

But we now know we couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Remedy

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that recycling doesn’t have a role in the circular economy.

It does.

But other impactful strategies should be getting a lot more attention.

Funnily, they all start with “R”:

To unlock the true potential of the circular economy we have to climb higher up the “R” ladder.

We have to make sure our materials and products don’t ever touch the waste management infrastructure.

As long as we keep prioritizing recycling as the solution to resources, we are getting nowhere.

We can’t recycle our way out of this.

The sooner we realize this, the better.

I hope that one day, people’s most googled green action will be “minimalism” or “zero waste”.

Because if we want to go circular we have to stop managing waste. We have to design it out.

That’s it for this week, see ya next Saturday!


04 May 2024

Other issues of The Loop

Design is at the heart of the circular economy.

27 April 2024

Design is at the heart of the circular economy.

20 April 2024

Design is at the heart of the circular economy.

13 April 2024

Design is at the heart of the circular economy.

06 April 2024