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Is recycling really helping the planet?

This is probably one of the most common questions we get asked. A lot of people think that if they recycle their daily used plastics, that should do it. Therefore, they feel perfectly fine consuming more and more plastics, finding comfort in the idea that all the plastic will get recycled. People talk about recycling like it's some sort of superhero. Just because at the end of the day you throw away all the plastics in the green bin, you're doing your part.

Flash news people! Only 9% of the plastic actually gets recycled. The rest 91% ends up in landfills and oceans.

Water Pollution

Do you still feel good about recycling now?

Here are 5 more ways recycling actually hurts the environment.

  • Recycling And It's False Promises

Burning money

Think about it. How effective recycling can be when the US alone produces 250 million tons of trash every year?

The whole recycling idea is it's about the mindset it gives people.

 Its main impact is to convince us that it's ok to be wasteful in some areas, as long as we're making up for it through recycling. It encourages people that it is ok to keep buying single-use items as long as they place it in the green bin after.

Therefore, it encourages consumption, rather than reducing, consumption overall.

  • Air Pollution Is Still A Problem

Polluting factory

The recycling itself produces a lot of pollutants. Think about it. To the already existing garbage trucks, we add another round to recycling trucks. In 2009 there were about 179,000 waste collection vehicles on the road.  They both run on fossil fuels, and they both produce exhaust. By adding more trucks to the fleet, no matter what their purpose, we’re increasing air pollution.

You might have heard about one of the newest trends in terms of recycling: All-In-One Recycling. All the paper, plastic and metal goes in one collecting car, and then it gets sorted at the factory. The basic idea is not bad. They are looking to reduce the number of trucks in order to cut down gases.

However, the trade-off is worse. to get everything sorted out at the warehouse requires millions of dollars worth of new equipment. Therefore, the pollution is just transferred to the factories that have to build it.

Let's take for example one recycling plant in Washington state. It produces more toxic emissions than any other factory in the area. And yes, you have guessed it right. The next three biggest polluters in the area are also recycling plants.

  • Most Plastics Can't Be Recycled

trash in the water

Out of 7 types of plastics we used on a daily basis, only 2 of them are recyclable. The rest of them will be collected, sorted, processed, and then thrown directly into a landfill.

On the other hand, the plastic recycling process is far from perfect. A lot of times some pieces of plastic can slip through even when they are not supposed to, and you'll end up with chemicals like BPA in plastics that aren't supposed to have it.

Research and debates are ongoing as to whether BPA should be banned or not. In 2012, FDA banned the use of plastics in baby bottles. And there are currently a few researchers that conclude the BPA contributes to metabolism diseases, therefore making you fat.

Take plastic bags for example. It's estimated that fewer than 1% actually gets recycled, and that might be just because it can get very expensive.  It costs $4,000 US to recycle one ton of plastic bags, but a ton of recycled bags only sells for $32!

 As a result, about 300,000 tons of them end up in a landfill every year.

The implementation of a new policy, called the “National Sword”, was so drastic that when it was first announced many people in the industry did not believe it would actually be implemented.

But then, China and Hong Kong went from buying 60 percent of the plastic waste to taking less than 10 percent during the same period a year later. China was the world’s biggest customer for paper and plastic. Not anymore.

What is the difference between reuse and recycling?

Globe in a plastic bag

Recycling means turning an item into raw materials that can be used again, usually for a completely new product. This is an energy-consuming procedure.

Reusing refers to using an object as it is without treatment. This reduces pollution and waste, thus making it a more sustainable process.

Examples of recycled items include fiberglass made from glass bottles and insulation materials made from newspaper or plastic bottles. Reused items include anything that was bought second hand, often furniture and clothing.

However, the most important thing we could be doing is reducing. That's above reuse and recycle. In a straightforward way, this is because consuming fewer products will eradicate the need for them to be reused or recycled when we are done with them. Over time, it will even help reduce the number of energy and material-guzzling products that are produced at all.

 Reuse and save the planet

Keeping purchases to a minimum is an important way of reducing the toll on the Earth's resources. Lowering consumption is the key to the concept of reducing, which can apply to physical objects as well as natural resources, such as gas, electricity, and water.

Not to be confused with reusing or recycling, reducing means lowering or eradicating use from the start.

Cutting back on unnecessary purchases lowers the rate at which materials are used, but also effectively lowers the energy, gas, and transportation costs that are accrued when an item is made and sold.

The term "reduce" clearly applies to lifestyle. Reducing driving would mean combining trips, carpooling, and walking, biking, and taking public transportation when possible. Taking shorter showers, landscaping appropriately to the local climate and replacing older, less efficient appliances with Energy Star appliances all fit under the reducing concept.

Here are some things you can do to reduce waste:

1. Print on both sides of the paper to reduce paper wastage.

2. Use electronic mail to reach out to people instead of sending paper mail.

3. Remove your name from the mailing lists that you no longer want to receive.

4. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.

5. Avoid using disposable plates, spoons, glass, cups, and napkins. They add to the problem and result in a large amount of waste.

6. Avoid buying items that are over-packaged with foil, paper, and plastic. This excess packaging goes to waste.

7. Buy durable goods that have a long warranty. They generally run longer and save landfill space.


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