When I'm trying to explain sustainability to someone the topic of recycling always comes up. I was told recently by someone that if it has a recycle symbol on the container, it means that it can be recycled. Well, not exactly. That might be surprising to you! Not all plastic is recyclable and the availability of it being recycled varies from place to place. Some areas just recently have discontinued their recycling programs and some are so limited that they only take very specific items.
So, let's go through a few reasons why we need to change our thinking when it comes to recycling.
#1 We are producing more than what we are recycling.
If you happen to look around and notice how much plastic there is in our everyday lives, it literally consumes us. It's everywhere! From kids toys to our take out containers! And if you really look around most of that plastic isn't even recyclable.
If you're making choices at the grocery store and you have a choice to go with a plastic container or cardboard, you chose the cardboard. There's a higher chance of the cardboard being recycled and it's an easier item to recycle than a plastic container.
#2 There's no guarantee an item is actually going to be recycled.
Did you know that 91% of plastic isn't even recycled! Yep! I have heard of people with great intensions that put their recyclables in the recycle bin and the garbage company just dumping it in the garbage truck. Once it leaves our house, what happens to it? It may or may not be recycled then shipped off to who-knows-where and then what happens to it? Just because we throw it in the blue bin doesn't mean it will be recycled! Now more than ever recycling programs are being eliminated! The cost of recycling outweighs what they're making anymore! So to them if they aren't making money they aren't going to keep the program going!
“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard
#3 It takes A LOT of energy to recycle an item.
In general, the amount of energy that goes into takes to recycle an item outweighs the product. It really takes more energy than it saves! From traveling diesel trucks to the energy it takes to process it. On a happy note though, some items like aluminum use less energy when recycled than using raw materials!
#4 Air Pollution from recycling plants.
The recycling process produces various amounts of pollutants. Particularly when plastic is recycled its releases toxic chemicals into the air. I recently read an article on a Seattle based recycling center that is one of the top polluters in the area! Kind of backwards, isn't it!?
#5 Contamination is a serious issue.
Contamination is one of the most challenging issues recycling facilities face today! Not just from throwing the wrong things in the recycle bin hoping for it to be recycled, which lovingly termed "wish-cycling", but it can be dirty containers! One small item can contaminate and ruin a whole batch of recyclables. Then it all ends up in the landfill!
Please check with your local recycling center what they take and please abide by those rules to lessen the chance of contamination.
So, does all this mean that you should just give up on recycling and not do it at all? No! We just need to understand that it is not our answer to our waste problems! For now, please still recycle what you can but maybe think of how you can upcycle and item or reuse what you can! Reduce what you are producing and encourage others to follow suit!