For many years the word “recycle” in America has been a buzz word. People are proud of their recycling efforts. Many communities, businesses, and schools have set up recycling programs and put on collection drives to raise money for their schools or non-profit organizations. And all of this is great, except for the sad fact that it allows people to justify their use of disposable plastic, under the guise of “Hey, I recycle it, so it should be okay!”
What people do not realize is what follows after they put their plastic water bottles in a recycle bin at home. First, a truck labeled “recycle” picks up their recyclables, including the myriad plastic bottles that end up in the bin. Then, the recyclables are sent to a sorting facility, where items are sorted...and various types of "contamination" and factors that make these recyclables "unsellable" prohibit them from actually being recycled.
Those greasy pizza boxes that you throw in there and cross your fingers that they’re “clean” enough to be recycled? Yogurt containers that haven’t been completely washed out? Even some types of paper, egg cartons, disposable coffee cups, and milk cartons? It’s often the case that these items go straight to the landfill. And this goes unreported! So people who THINK they are recycling keep on consuming under the impression that it is okay to consume because they “recycle.”
What’s happening “behind the curtain” at many American recycling centers, you may wonder? After your recycle bin is emptied by the truck at the curb, a private company then takes the “recyclables” to a sorting plant where the various goods are sorted. Local companies or governments then actually SELL the items to either domestic or overseas processors. China is one of those overseas processors...and China has very strict recycling requirements, often making it such that many of the so-called recyclable items in the US are not actually recyclable at all.
Because of this fact, some American cities have decided to ban the dumping of cardboard, plastic, and paper in the landfill, but some states have actually granted waivers so that “unsellable” recyclables can be dumped right in.
So in fact, when you opt for items like single-use plastic bottles, you’re often ADDING to the landfill…and to plastic rubbish in our oceans.
The bottom line is, the word “recycle” has become a license to consume. Plain and simple. As long as people think they are recycling, they give their use of disposables little to no thought. They are missing the point…and the often hidden facts about what’s REALLY happening with recyclables.
Ultimately, this recycling issue is all about money. It costs money to recycle. And if it’s cheaper to just dump recyclables in the landfill, that’s what’s going to happen. Businesses do not want to lose money. They respond to what the consumer wants. Consumers vote with their wallets.
If we do not want to pay higher prices to recycle all of our waste, then we either have to accept the fact that all of our waste (whether we think we are recycling it, or not) will be headed to landfills. And this is the best case scenario!
The percentage of plastic being recycled on a national level is around 7%. Of course landfills are toxic. But what we are forgetting is the fact that so much of this rubbish ends up in our oceans. We have all heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or have seen images of poor turtles with six-pack rings wrapped around their necks. If we show that, as consumers, we are no longer willing to buy these toxic items, companies will have no choice but to stop making them. But as long as we keep buying single-use plastic, more and more of it will accumulate in our landfills and oceans.
The bottom line? Recycling should be the LAST RESORT! Reducing and reusing should come first. And that means once and for all, choosing to say no to single-use plastic.