What is easier to recycle? Carton, plastic or glass?

We all know that we should be recycling more of our carton, plastic and glass.

Recycling saves valuable resources, it reduces emissions, it saves our waste ending up in landfill (at least, temporarily) and it could help reduce the growing problem of plastic pollution in the seas.

But if we want to make better informed shopping decisions we need to know a very important fact; which one of these is easiest to recycle?

Let’s find out.

Recycling carton

Carton is lightweight, easy to transport and relatively straightforward to recycle. It’s also easy to stack and if you knock over a pile of boxes, the worst that will happen is a pile of carton, no nasty shards of broken glass will be involved!

However, not all the carton that enters your home can even be recycled. Much of what we use is coated with plastic, or gets dirtied by oil, juice or food scraps.

Carton can’t be used an infinite number or times, either- eventually it breaks down and becomes unusable. But it is completely biodegradable (you can even throw it onto your compost!), so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When it comes to the recycling process itself, it’s good news. The process uses 75% of the energy originally required and creates fewer harmful emissions and pollutants than when recycling plastic or glass. It’s also much easier to find a cardboard recycling station than a furnace or plastic recycling facility.

Recycling plastic

Plastic is very difficult to recycle, for several reasons.

Firstly, a huge percentage of the plastics we use can’t even be recycled. Most of the plastics we use, like toothbrushes, cotton buds and plastic shopping bags can only end up in landfill.

Secondly, you can’t mix the different types of plastic that end up in the recycling process. This is a big challenge as you can’t tell one plastic from the other just by looking and it can cause huge problems.

Thirdly, the plastic recycling process has a similar impact on the environment as when new plastic is created. The same volatile organic compounds will be released into the environment and result in the same pollution.

Even if the plastic does manage to be recycled, it’s often downcycled and made into less-useful products that are often only suitable for one use, then simply sent to landfill.

Recycling glass

Glass is very easy to recycle and can be quickly remade into the same product as first time around by being melted in a furnace. It can also be recycled an infinite number of times, which is great news for the planet.

Recycling glass also lowers its carbon footprint, resulting in a 5% reduction in emissions. The furnaces can also run at lower heat, saving around 3% in energy too.

However, there are a couple of problems. Firstly, glass is quite heavy, so it requires more fuel to transport. Secondly, coloured glass and clear glass must always be separated and can’t be contaminated with non-recyclable glass such as light bulbs, ovenware and window glass.

Conclusion

There isn’t a simple answer to the question of whether glass, carton or plastic is easier to recycle as they all have their pros and cons. Having said that, plastic is the least eco-friendly of the three, so it’s best to opt for glass or carton instead.

Recycling isn’t a long-term solution to our growing waste problem, but it is a step towards lowering our impact upon the planet. It’s far better to reduce your overall consumption, work towards eliminating unnecessary waste and to switch to reusable alternatives whenever possible.


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