Recycling and reusing appear in two threads that run through the GCSE geography syllabus - climate change and sustainability. There must be an international, national and local united response to the threat of global climate change and sustainable development must ensure that the environment is protected and that there are sufficient resources left for future generations.

Globalisation and industrialisation increases the amount of waste that is produced. As the wealth of a country increases, the demand for consumer items also increases. Waste is produced as a result of the manufacturing of the items, from the packaging and when the items reach the end of their useful life. Manufacturing any item requires energy so the more items that are manufactured, the greater the energy costs.

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Most energy comes from non-renewable sources that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so any reduction in the amount of goods manufactured will have a positive impact on the human-made element of climate change. The more goods that are manufactured now means that resources will be used up and unavailable to future generations. A reduction in manufacturing therefore also aids with sustainability.

On the other hand, manufacturers don't want a reduction in the volume of items they are making as it means reduced profits. If an industry is the main source of income for an emerging economy, the government will not want a reduction in the manufacturing volume either. This gives rise to a conflict of interest and so international cooperation is not always possible.

At a national level, the British government sets recycling targets for local councils which they can try to achieve by encouraging both recycling and reusing items where possible. Recycling and reusing is not something that can be forced onto individuals at a local level. Local councils provide separate bins for waste and materials that can be recycled as well as recycling collection points. This relies on the population to make a small effort to sort out their waste into items that can be recycled and those which can't. Local byelaws can be established concerning recycling but it is only really practical to direct these at local businesses. Schools and communities also play their part by putting in place as many recycling measures as they can as well as educating people about the need for recycling and reusing items. There are people for whom recycling is too much of a chore, so there will always be a small proportion of potentially recyclable materials lost to landfill.

Many of the larger retailers have zero waste to landfill policies. They aim to recycle all of their waste and avoid using materials that cannot be recycled. They carry out an audit of absolutely every material that they use to find out when and where waste is being created. They can then plan strategies to reduce it.

Supermarkets are known for wasting a lot of perfectly good food just because it has gone past its 'sell by' date. Non-animal products can be sent for composting but this is not widely practised. Most of it is simply thrown away. Some people believe that throwing perfectly edible food away is wrong and have set up businesses to buy it from supermarkets and re-sell it.

Another method of recycling and reusing materials that would otherwise end up in landfill is called upcycling. This involves taking objects like old baths, industrial pallets, snowboards and a huge variety of other items and then modifying them to be used as lamps, chairs, sofas, tables, garden seats and other household items.

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  1. What is recycling?
    Not all materials can be recycled, for example certain types of plastic like bakelite
  2. Which of the following cannot be recycled?
    It is inevitable that some materials will end up in landfills, not everything can be recycled or reused
  3. Why is recycling important?
    There are many benefits to recycling
  4. Wood can be recycled to make...
    Panel boards are used in the construction industry and for making flat-pack furniture. Other things made from recycled wood include animal bedding, landscaping surfaces and play area surfaces
  5. Why does recycling metals reduce the amount of energy required to make metal items?
    Getting a metal from its ore takes a lot of energy. Recycling metals like iron and steel means that they only have to be melted, which takes a lot less energy than starting with the ore in the ground
  6. How does recycling make a positive contribution to climate change?
    Manufacturing items from raw materials takes more energy, most of which comes from burning fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Recycling takes less energy so less carbon dioxide goes into the air
  7. Apart from helping with climate change, recycling is sensible because...
    This means that many resources that we use today will still be available to future generations
  8. Why are alloys difficult to recycle?
    However hard we try, there will always be some materials that we cannot recycle
  9. Which of the following is not an advantage of recycling metals?
    Collection of any material for recycling requires the use of energy, however, there are more advantages than disadvantages of recycling metals
  10. Repairing and reusing for personal use is widespread in LEDCs. Which of the following is the best explanation?
    The population of a LEDC is generally much poorer than populations of MEDCs and must repair and reuse as much as they can

Author: Kev Woodward

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