The Myth of Recycling
The Recycling Myth
Do you get a warm, fuzzy feeling from putting out your clean, sorted recycling items? I have always felt good about doing my part to be a good steward of our planet by doing just that. I had this beautiful vision of my recycling being taken away, sorted and used to create something new. I felt I was helping close the loop.
For decades, China had been taking nearly half our plastics, paper and other recyclables. They paid for them, funding our recycling centers, and transported them out of our sight. Last year that all ended when they determined that the recycling we were sending them was too soiled, too toxic and unusable. It became obvious that we in the US are just do not have the demand and the infrastructure to properly dispose of our recycling.
Our country has no apparent market to turn our recyclable materials into new things. Just recently, Boston received only one single bid for its new residential recycling processing contract. Waste Management declined to bid for the first time in years. Read more on this.
What does this mean? It means we either have to dump our recycling into landfills where it will, in the case of plastic, likely still be sitting in hundreds of years, releasing methane gas. Or we can opt to pay exorbitant recycling prices. In some cities, such as Chester City, Pennsylvania, recycling products are sent to huge incinerators.
As a result, Chester County burns about 3,510 tons of trash every day, the equivalent of more than 17 blue whales. This creates toxic air quality for residents living near these large incinerators. The nitrogen, sulfur dioxins and the tiny fragments of particulate matter entering the air present a host of serious health hazard for people, animals and our environment.
Even before China began refusing our recycling mess, very little of what we have carefully cleaned and sorted has ever been properly disposed. Cost has been a major factor here. The winning international statistic of last year was 90.5% - the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, the author explores the end of recycling, stating that it comes at a time when the US is creating more waste than ever. In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, they claim the US generated 262.4 million tons of waste, up 60% from 1985. That equates to five pounds per person per day. New York City collected 934 tons of metal, plastic and glass a day from residents last year, a 33% increase from just five years earlier.
These sobering statistics may haunt you from now on, every time you put that piece of recycling in the bin to go curbside. All the warm, fuzzy feelings are gone for me. Now I find myself purchasing products based on how little packaging they have or whether I can buy them with no packaging at all. I have started to give up certain items because of the plastic in which they come. Goodbye, raspberries and blueberries.
There is no silver bullet here. We know now we cannot recycle our way out of this issue. We must find solutions on an individual level. However, large corporations, municipalities, schools, celebrities and - yes - the media, all need to take greater responsibility. People at all levels must establish environmental goals that will reduce our unnecessary waste and eliminate the convenience options that are leaving a terrible trail.
Zoetica offers solutions for people who are serious about making positive changes. We are a company dedicated to eliminating single-use disposable trash in the lives of people everywhere. Check out the many ways Zoetica can help you, your family and friends, and even the company for which you work to start living responsibly.