If you’re getting into the eco-friendly movement and starting to take an interest in what happens to your household waste once it no longer belongs to your household.
You will undoubtedly have come across the terms recyclable and compostable.
Both are ways of getting rid of waste that don’t involve it going into landfill, but they involve very different processes and require different behavior and different ingredients.
We’re going to explore the differences today.
Very basically, the difference between composting and recycling is that composting involves breaking organic materials down into soil again.
And recycling involves reclaiming metals and plastics and other synthetic materials and processing them into new synthetic products.
What Is Composting?
Composting can be done in your garden at home, and some places offer compost collections for those who do not have space to compost themselves.
Composting involves many different methods and approaches, but commonly, it means building a heap in your backyard, where you dispose of vegetable peelings, most waste food, and garden scraps.
You then stir this heap, encouraging worms and microbes to break the waste back down into organic matter, soil, that can then be used on your garden just like compost that you might buy from a garden center.
What Is Recycling?
Recycling is usually a service provided by governments; it is not something that you can do at home. It usually involves taking products,
breaking them down into their raw materials, and then processing these raw materials back into new products.
For example, if you recycle clean aluminum foil, this can later be processed into something else that requires aluminum,
instead of the valuable resource ending up in a landfill, where it cannot be used, and more aluminum having to be extracted from the environment.
Reusing materials is also better because they often require less processing than materials freshly extracted from the ground.
Overall, recycling reduces landfill waste, reduces new extraction rates, and also often reduces processing needs because the material needs minimal processing to be reused.
What Can You Compost?
So, what can you put in a compost bin?
Well, in theory, anything organic, although there are a few caveats.
Most people do not put meat or dairy in their composts, as these can attract vermin and may smell bad. You should also avoid composting pet waste from carnivorous pets, as this can carry dangerous diseases.
Many people advise not putting seeds from weeds and invasive plants in your compost bin, as these can then spread across the garden when you use the compost.
However, you can include things such as paper, cardboard, newspaper, etc., in your compost bin, and it’s a great way to get rid of greasy card that cannot be recycled because of the fat.
This article on what papers can be composted and why goes into more depth please check it out!
You can also compost human hair, fully natural fabrics (no blended synthetics, though), pet fur, fruit peelings, leftovers, food that has gone moldy, and almost anything else that is organic.
What Can You Recycle?
This is a slightly more difficult question. Recycling facilities are sadly lacking in consistency, and what you can recycle may vary widely from what other people can recycle.
However, we will run through some of the common options; it’s recommended that you check these with information from your local service provider.
You can often recycle cans, cardboard, paper, some plastics (e.g. clear plastic bottles), glass, and foil.
You may also be able to recycle tetra packs, stretchy plastic (e.g. carrier bags), shredded paper, and a few other things.
You usually can’t recycle: scrap metal, broken glass, cloth, food waste, disposable diapers, mixed materials, and most other household garbage.
What Happens If I Add The Wrong Things?
If you put unnatural ingredients in your compost heap, they won’t decompose. This may be the biggest visible consequence, but they may start shedding microplastics into your compost heap and garden.
This isn’t good at all for the environment, and is not ideal for your compost heap either. If you are able to avoid contaminating your compost heap with anything synthetic, do so.
If you add other “wrong” ingredients that are still natural, such as meat, you may face problems such as rats moving in, or a bad smell from the compost.
Check out my blog on why my compost smells
These issues will resolve themselves as the meat will break down, but you shouldn’t keep adding the “wrong” thing if it causes problems, and you may need to discourage the rats.
If you add the wrong things to your recycling bin, you may unfortunately contaminate the whole load of recycling, making it unusable.
Recycling needs to be relatively clean and easy to process to make it economically viable for companies to do.
Heavily contaminated loads of recycling may get thrown into landfills because it isn’t viable to sort and deal with the waste.
It’s important to try and find out exactly what you can and can’t recycle in your area, and to follow the local guidlines about it.
Environmental Benefits Of Composting
We all know that landfills are problematic and are going to become more problematic in the coming years.
They are constantly increasing and we will eventually simply run out of space. They are also contributors to greenhouse gasses.
Adding organic matter to landfill is a particularly harmful practice, because there is not much oxygen in a landfill.
Organic matter that breaks down in non-oxygen conditions produces a lot of methane, which is a problematic greenhouse gas.
Why? Organic matter that breaks down in a normal compost heap will usually have the help of aerobic bacteria, which need oxygen to survive.
Organic matter that breaks down in landfill will be broken down by anaerobic bacteria, which produce methane.
So, composting reduces the overall size of landfill sites, and it also helps to reduce the emissions they output.
It also gives people ready access to soil, so they don’t have to buy as much commercially to garden with.
Furthermore, composting reduces the transport requirements in several ways.
It reduces the amount being transported by garbage trucks, reduces the requirement for trucks to carry compost to garden centers, and the need for consumers to drive to collect the compost.
Take into account packaging and processing for commercial compost, and it’s obvious that home composting has a lot of benefits.
Composting at home reduces the need for government services, which can help to save money. It may only seem a small amount, but it can make a surprising difference.
Reducing the overall quantity of material going into landfill also helps save money, as fewer landfills will be needed and less maintenance required.
Finally, reducing methane emissions can have lots of hidden economic benefits, putting less strain on the resources needed to fight climate change.
Environmental Benefits Of Recycling
We already mentioned a few of the benefits of recycling, but to recap quickly: it prevents the need to extract and process so many raw materials from the ground.
This can leave more space to nature, reducing the pressure on birds and wildlife, and cutting down on shipping and transportation.
By reusing what we already have, we simultaneously reduce our landfill requirements and reduce our demand on the planet.
Recycling is not the ultimate answer to environmental problems, but it has a significant impact.
Economic Benefits Of Recycling
There are many more significant economic benefits to recycling than there are to composting. Entire industries hinge upon recycling and it is a huge business.
Over a million people in America work in the recycling industry, and many businesses benefit from using their materials more effectively and repurposing things that can be reused.
This reduces fees and fines associated with landfill waste.
Many recycled materials work out at a lower cost than virgin materials, partly due to the processing requirements mentioned earlier. There is no need to obtain something new and make it fit for purpose; it just has to be reprocessed.
This end cost can be kept by the company, passed on to the consumer, or split, which can help to boost the economy.
Recycling also prompts green thinking, and the production of better, more efficient methods and technologies. Over time, this will increase the savings and widen the gap between landfill and recycling.
Finally, as with composting, if we can reduce our reliance on landfills, we will also save money and be able to put valuable land to better uses than literal garbage disposals.
Recycling and composting are very different processes, but both are valuable aspects of helping to protect our planet and reducing our dependence on landfill, which is a method that was misguided at best and is quickly becoming outdated.
Landfill sites essentially push the problems of now, constantly gathering interest, onto future generations to deal with.
We need to find better solutions to our household waste, and move away from materials that cannot either be composted or recycled.
So that we can repurpose landfill space and recover more of the materials we already have, rather than pressuring the planet further by extracting more.
So, if you’ve ever asked what is the difference between recycling and composting, you hopefully now feel you understand better – and perhaps you feel more inspired to undertake one, the other, or both, in order to make the planet a little bit greener.