For Earth Month, I wanted to dedicate my blog to talk about environmental topics that I normally wouldn’t cover. My degree was in fiber and polymer science and I can’t see plastic without drawing out benzene rings in my head which I call “organic chemistry induced PTS.” #neverforget
This week is a two-part post, I’m talking about recycling and the recycling crisis. On social media, I haven’t seen many people talk about the state of our country and where we are when it comes to our trash. People advocate for zero-waste, but sometimes we forget to talk about why and how we got to where we are with our waste.
When I lived in California, sustainability was easy. Plastic bags were banned; everywhere I went there were three cans for trash: landfill, recycle and compost. Living in conservative Colorado Springs, I feel like I’m in a different world. I’ve been to people’s houses where they don’t recycle and their Lacroix cans are in the garbage. I see people buy single-use water bottles by the dozen every time I go to the grocery store, and I’ve been ignored at stores when I say “no blag please.” So what do you do?
Our Recycling Crisis
In the 80s, China started to import other country’s trash as a way of growing its manufacturing sector. China used to accept 40% of the U.S. recyclables such as plastics, glass, metal, wastepaper and other reusables. The rest of the 60% was sold to other accepting countries and some were processed here in the United States. In January of 2018, China became more strict making it harder for post-consumer plastic and waste paper to be accepted for imports. Now, we’re stuck with our
We are hopeful recyclers and that’s our problem, not just that we’re now responsible for more of our trash. In my opinion, we automatically think that all plastic, cardboard or metal can be recycled. We put it in our recycling bins, take it to the curve and trust our communities to make it into a new product—but it doesn’t work that way.
Our plastics are highly contaminated. We’re throwing away more trash thinking it’s recyclable and/or we’re throwing dirty recycling into our recycling scepters. When we contaminate recyclables, we’re hurting the recycling economy. Cleaned recyclables require more effort. More work put into recycled products is more expensive due to the extra labor which then discourages business and individuals alike to spend more on recycled goods since it is cheaper and easier to buy new.
And when I say contaminated recyclables, I don’t mean that they need the biohazard sign. Contamination is as easy as leftover food waste. Other types of contaminants are plastic bags, diapers, styrofoam, straws, etc.—essentially, any lurkers that can get mixed with the “good” recyclables.
What Can You Do
Make Less Trash
I know you’re probably thinking, “Ok this is super obvious,” but is it?
Sometimes nipping unwanted things in the bud is the most efficient way to prevent them. Opt to use reusables and refuse to accept single-use items. I know it can be hard when everyone around you is doing things a certain way and it’s easier to go with the flow. BUT you can be a trendsetter. Once people see you using reusables they’ll think “huh, I didn’t think about that.” Another way to reduce plastic waste is to switch to metals or glass. They’re also recyclable but are more accepted than plastics in some counties.
A new post dedicated to simple ways we can reduce trash in our everyday lives coming out this Friday. I want us to be successful when living out disciplines such as this, but we never have to do it alone, which is why I’m here to help.
Know Your Labels
Another more detail post about this later this week. Every plastic out there has a number assigned to it, helping you identify exactly what type it is. Some are easier to recycle than others and some can only be recycled by certain groups. It’s important to know what type of plastic you’re consuming so you can determine how to use that particular plastic and how to correctly dispose of it.
Know What You Can Recycle
As mentioned above, not all plastics are created equal and not all waste management in every county or state are the same. Make sure to research and inform yourself what type of recyclables are accepted in your waste management facility and where you can take the rest of your recyclables. Big box stores such as Target, Sprouts and King Soopers in my area collect hard-to-recycle plastics like bread bags, plastic wrappings, and styrofoam.
Clean Your Plastics
Extra effort avoids
When taking out your recycling, double check that you did not accidentally put trash in the recycling. This is another way that counts as “contamination.”
To avoid being a “hopeful recycler” when in doubt research before you throw away.
Be an Advocate
Lastly, share your knowledge with others. You may be a pro at recycling, so why not share it with people you know? Sometimes we think that we need to go out and change our entire city, yet it all starts with influencing one person.
Advocate for standardized recycling labels. Recycling is confusing yet it shouldn’t be. Advocate for your local governments, your workplace, or even your family to implement standardized labels for recycling and landfill bins. Standardization educates and informs us to recycle correctly.
Advocate for a garbage tax. I know, I know, no one likes taxes. It’s a way to discourage the mass production of garbage and contaminated recycling. Not only can we advocate for a garbage tax but we can also advocate for recycling and sustainability incentives. It works both ways!
*Disclaimer: As you read this, I encourage you to do your own research about the topic. There’s so much I did not touch on and I encourage you to develop your own ideas about the subject as well.