Recycling is a civic responsibility and is more important now than ever. You may be thinking, “But I recycle!” Well, you might be recycling but are you doing it in the proper way? For a long time I thought I had it all figured out and was apart of this positive and almost effortless movement, but as of recently I had discovered that I was recycling several things that I shouldn’t be, as well as recycling things that would be denied at a plant, and it was really discouraging. It may bum you out for a second making that realization, but take this moment as a time to reflect and take the next step into making a difference. This post is made to break down, educate and promote a reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle in the easiest way possible.
Before we get into what you shouldn’t be recycling, it’s best to learn more about some current events involving recycling, and some history to put things into an even larger perspective.
Back in the beginning of 2018, China had announced that it would not be accepting certain types of imported garbage that included a lot of different varieties of plastic and paper. The guidelines for which ones they accept and don’t accept have become much more strict than it used to be. If the item does not meet the material criteria or is more than 0.5% impure, they will be denied. Which has turned into a nightmare for loads of waste managers who say that these standards are impossible to meet. Even the smallest imperfections on items can make a whole batch of recyclables useless (The New York Times).
Before this ban the United States alone was sending 4,000 shipping containers filled to the brim with plastic recyclables DAILY to China (USA Today). Some countries have found it difficult to find an alternative to use instead of the Chinese market including Canada, Australia, Britain Germany and some other European countries. The Western side of the United States has been dealing with the repercussions a little heavier than most areas. Parts of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii have began refusing to recycle most plastics, glass and certain styles of paper and urging customers to put them in the trash. Some plastics that used to be recycled just fine are now being denied. Things like yogurt containers, tubs of butter and oil bottles. Which most of us wouldn’t even think twice about recycling regularly. As you can assume, recycling plants are taking an extremely rough hit from all of this. These companies used to get paid to sell off recyclable items, but it has turned into them having to pay people to take the items off their hands (The New York Times).
Landfills are unfortunately in an extremely rough place and it’s disheartening knowing that 80% of the items in landfills could be recycled, but a lot of people think that oceans are being hit the heaviest with the largest and most rapid negative repercussions. A study that was done at the University of Georgia had concluded that 18 billion pounds of plastic waste end up in the ocean EVERY YEAR (Rubicon). By 2050 if this type of unacceptable issue continues, the World Economic Forum has concluded that there will more plastic in the ocean and seas than fish (The Washington Post). A great reference point on how bad pollution in the water has gotten dates back to August of 1997, when Charles Moore discovered the Great Pacific garbage patch (Charles Moore). This “garbage patch” is now at least 87,000 tons worth of 99.9% plastic rubbish. Full of toys, electronics, bottles, nets, etc. You name it, it’s probably smothered within this disturbing vortex of trash. It is about four times the size of California, and has an estimated amount of 1.8 trillion pieces of waste within it. This is sixteen times bigger than what researchers had estimated. The main fear that comes from this is that these plastics will continue to disintegrate into micoplastics. Microplastics are extremely hard to remove from the ocean since they are smaller than 5mm, which is not visible to the human eye. They already make up 94% of the patch, and are being found in an abundance of marine life. It has entered just about everything under the sea from plankton to whales. In households, it has been found to have contaminated things like salt, honey, sugar, beer, fertilizers, dust, tape water and even bottled water. Since these fish are digesting these particles, that means that they are leisurely entering our food chain without us even realizing it. (Journal of Medical Toxicology).
Now that we have discussed how alarming this monstrous issue is, we have some little tips to guide you towards a more green lifestyle.
1. Disposable Cups
Some disposable cups are recyclable, but even people who use them daily wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference from one you can recycle and one you cannot recycle. Some are lined with polyethylene and this makes the cup liquid proof. Unfortunately, it’s hard to reprocess at recycling facilities and also extremely costly (The New York Times). If you were to ask a waste manager, they would suggest that you just throw it into the trash or to invest in a reusable cup!
2. Pizza Boxes/Takeout Containers
When you dispose of your pizza box do you observe how much grease is on the box, or do you just dispose of it into your recyclables without any thought? If so, be sure to be more cautious next time. The oil from your pizza unfortunately can’t be separated from the fiber of the cardboard, which makes the cardboard less desirable to buyers. If there’s only a few crumbs and a little bit of grease, don’t stress! If it’s minimal, they can still be sold. Same goes for takeout containers. They can be tricky because if they fit the plastic requirements, then you automatically would assume it’s something you can recycle, but you need to take one extra step to get it ready for the recycling process. Make sure you discard all of the food scraps left in your to go container before recycling it. You don’t need to make sure they’re completely spotless, but make sure to make that extra effort since the littlest of faults can make or break the material (The New York Times).
3. Plastic Bags
Unfortunately when I discuss this planets recycling issue with anyone, a majority of people seem to not know that you CANNOT RECYCLE PLASTIC BAGS! This is something that I myself have recently found out as a shock. Waste managers have lots of issues with them when they arrive at their facilities since they plug up the machinery. Some areas offer places to drop off your plastic bags, where they are sent to a special recycling plant that accepts nonrigid plastics. You should always avoid plastic bags as much as possible though, considering that they dissolve into microplastics (The New York Times).
4. Shredded Paper
When items arrive at a recycling facility, they then must be separated to find out what materials came that are non-recyclable, and shredded paper poses as a problem in this way. It is extremely difficult to separate them, and can also clog up the machinery just like the plastic bags do unfortunately. You can reconsider recycling your shredded paper and instead putting them into a compost pile (Livestrong)!
Since recycling guidelines range, please research what your local restrictions are to make sure you are accurately recycling, and not adding to the chaos! As a planet, we need to focus not just on the recycle, but the reduce and reuse too. Plenty of plastic is intended and used in a single use, and that just isn’t right to invest in when it is much more ethical and quick to invest in simple alternatives. Start by minimizing your plastic use, purchase reusable straws and bags, buy products made of recyclable material, buy boxed items instead of bottled and donating old clothes to charity are all little things you can start doing to make a big difference.