Recycling: Not a golden solution

Recycling: Not a golden solution

The narrative around recycling is only growing. We see everyone from the government to our favourite brands encourage us to recycle more. While this is great for raising awareness, we're just going to say it: recycling isn't a total solution.

The plastic fantasy

These days, it's rare to come across someone who doesn't diligently recycle their plastic. We take care to sort our containers and packaging into the correct bins, assuming it will be recycled after collection. Sadly, this is a fantasy.

Under 10% of everyday plastic makes it to the recycling stage in the UK. As has been the case for decades, plastic makes its way to general waste bins, surfaces in natural ecosystems, and the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. 

The UK is the second-biggest plastic waste producer globally (only the US generates more). We also export two-thirds of our plastic waste abroad, typically leaving it for developing countries to deal with.

Some of the plastic goes to landfills, where it can release toxic chemicals into natural habitats. Thousands of tonnes of household plastic packaging – and other forms of plastic waste – end up being burnt in waste incinerators at home and abroad, generating air pollution. In turn, this affects the health of those in the low-income neighbourhoods where these units are predominantly located. 

Even if governments worldwide follow through on their plastic reduction commitments, we will still be churning 20-53 million tonnes of plastic waste into our aquatic ecosystems in 2030. 

Virgin plastics – plastic made anew rather than repurposed plastic – are cheaper to produce than recycled materials.

It's a vicious cycle, arguably one that is enabled by us positioning recycling as a golden solution. While recycling (done right) plays a vital role in sustainable living, a rethink is desperately needed.

Meaningful purchases

So, where does the answer lie? We think the most meaningful step we can take is to reduce consumption altogether - to stop waste being created in the first place.

Waste and pollution should be viewed as design flaws, not inescapable by-products of the items we produce. Ten thousand items of clothing end up in landfills every five minutes. 95% of beauty packaging is thrown out after just one use.

We can almost completely avoid waste by approaching the way we live and create from a totally different angle, shifting mindsets, avoiding single-use products, and embracing new processes and materials.  

Waste reduction as a core principle

For us here at SANS–, good design is grounded in a 'less is more' ethos; we create with durability, reusability and environmental protection in mind, rather than falling back on the same old idealised vision of recycling.

It's not about making something last forever; it's about keeping it in circulation and consuming less. Our refill packaging is made from biodegradable cardboard. Our deodorant formulas are natural and last longer than typical antiperspirants. Our durable aluminium Capsules are designed to sustain for as long as you use them before being repurposed.

Nothing is waste in the natural world; everything is fuel for something else, from fallen fruit to rainwater. Likewise, considered design is timeless. And it needn't compromise performance or quality.