Recycling has become the saving grace for our ongoing consumerism. It’s a way we like to believe we are still helping mother earth while occasionally taking part in easily disposable products like plastic or styrofoam takeaway containers. But seeing how 91% of plastic isn’t recycled it doesn’t seem like it does much. Recycling makes us feel good like we aren’t that bad and it can possibly save the world if we just learn how to do it correctly. Much like thrifting and buying second-hand, we believe that it’s sustainable and our best option but is it really the super pill we think it is?
Recycling is a big buzzword in the sustainability community. Much like composting if we see a product that is recyclable, we are more inclined to buy it thinking that it’s doing good. This is a form of greenwashing. Greenwashing in very basic terms is a company or brand making the product or service seem more eco-friendly than it actually is. Think BP saying they are investing in low carbon and renewable energy cost all while funneling money into fossil fuels. Or something that’s a little closer to home Hefty saying they have recyclable trash bags. As we know everything isn’t recyclable, and if it is, not everything goes to the same plant. That’s why there are numbers on the inside of the recycling symbol it tells you the type of plastic that it is and what it means when it is time to recycle (like where it goes and if it can go). If you want to know what each number means here is a link to a very helpful article so you can learn more.
Today we are just going into if recycling can be helpful or harmful and what can we do about it.
A Basic Overview of The US Recycling System
Let’s find out what happens to our rubbish after it’s been collected and sent off to the recycling center. Of course, this will differ from city to city this is just a generalization to give us an idea.
Once it’s been collected your items are sent off to a collection facility this is where all your items are sorted, processed, cleaned out, and prepared for transport to a milling or manufacturing company. Some commodities might require more processing and decontamination depending on what it is. After everything is processed they are made into new products for use.1
Benefits Of Recycling
Recycling keeps waste out of landfills and preserves our resources like wood water and minerals. It also reduces greenhouse gases and preserves our natural resources. It also creates jobs and boosts our economy.
Are there any downsides?
As far as downsides to recycling, yes and no. There is nothing bad about recycling itself but it’s the culture it brings. The thing that worries environmentalists is that can promote additional consumption and therefore create additional waste2. It’s the mindset it gives us when we believe that you can just recycle whatever product you don’t need anymore then we don’t think twice about buying it because we can just recycle it. However, everything can’t be recycled and we often through things in the bin without verifying if they can and if the plant that this bin goes to takes this type of waste. This is called wish cycling.
When you keep buying things you don’t necessarily need and recycle them you’re still creating more waste and everything can’t be recycled. This is called wish cycling. This is harmful because if a plant receives an item that it doesn’t accept then they have to send it to a plant that does and it creates more emissions3 or sometimes it might even just go to waste.
What Can We Do?
I know this is more of a downer and make you feel as if it’s a lose-lose situation but it’s not! Recycling overall is good the only downside is consumerism, and that is something we can control. Recycling isn’t the end all be all. The most important thing you can do is focus on the old classic saying, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Mostly focus on the reduce and reuse part.
Before you buy ask yourself if this is a want or a need. If it’s a want see if you can go without it or if there’s another option. For example, with the takeaway bins maybe recreate the recipe at home or go eat at the restaurant. If you’re like me and prefer to stuff your face in the safety of your home then do it sparingly.
Also, reuse what you can find a new use for them or add them to your Tupperware pile. This goes for everything wine bottles, paper, grocery bags, and anything else. Support sustainable companies and refill your bottles.
At the end of the day. Recycling is a great resource and can help us reduce waste in the landfill and greenhouse gases. If we use it correctly. Make sure we are as educated as possible and send our recyclables to the right place. Reduce our needless consumerism, and reuse everything we can. That way we don’t overwhelm our recycling plants or overuse our natural resources.