Why Recycling Is Not the Final Solution
Last month I wrote about trash and how it doesn’t belong in the landfill. Of course I received some emails afterward, suggesting that I write about recycling because it’s important that we recycle. After all, American’s slogan is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.
I certainly agree with the first two R’s, but my personal 3rd R is Refuse which becomes my first R in the list.
Recycling is certainly an option and I do it every day. I recycle everything. Whatever is not recyclable I put in the compost or the trash. My weekly trash has been reduced to one small bag, but my recycling bin I have to empty every day.
This means that I really didn’t reduce anything, it’s just going into a separate bin, but I’m still wasting a lot of resources and I’m still creating waste that will be around for thousands of years.
Why? Recycling paper and glass is easier on the environment. Glass can be recycled over and over without losing any of its quality or purity. Plastic, on the other hand, can be recycled many times, but then becomes brittle. And once the recycled materials’ life-cycle is over, it will end up in the landfill.
Also, some products that have been made of recycled materials, like fencing, furniture, or floor mats, can’t be reused and when we dump them, our environment can’t “reuse” them. The animals and bugs can’t eat through them to compost the material. No water nor heat can penetrate the hard material that has been recycled.
And as much as recycling is great for the economy, the environment, and often times our city’s budget (it is nowadays cheaper to recycle than to put in the landfill), I still don’t find the process fool proof and really environmentally friendly.
Plastic in the US has a recycling symbol on it that will tell us, the consumer, if it’s recyclable or not. When we purchase anything that is stored in plastic, we don’t look at the symbol to decide if we want to buy the product or not. We buy the product because of what’s inside, seldom because of packaging. When the container is empty, we just throw it into the recycling bin regardless of whether it’s recyclable or not.
When we recycle the recyclable plastic, there is no guarantee that the item will be accepted by the residential recycling program. The number on the plastic merely indicates its resin content.
Recycled plastic that has been reused for floor covering, mats, clothes, egg cartons, plates, etc. could leak chemicals. There are no long term studies that show us that it’s safe to store food in, have your child crawl on, or wear these clothes on your body without any side effects.
There are a lot of new studies that say that plastic is harmful who manufacture it on many levels not just to the adult user, but also to thefetus and the infant who is exposed to certain chemicals if the mother is exposed to plastic.
Plastic is made out of petroleum. While we are complaining that the oil prices go up, we are more wasteful with our resources than any other country in the world. Petroleum is better used for fuel, our roads, heating, and medical equipment.
We are in a constant creation of new products, but the old ones don’t disappear. Think about it, how much stuff we throw away (recycled or not) and how much we really need. We manufacture way more than one person would need and we are only “feeding” the factories, but not ourselves.
How many bottles of water do we need to still our thirst? One, that is reusable for many years. But how many do we use if we drink out of plastic? 2-3 per day? More? That’s about 20 plastic bottles a week, over 1000 bottles a year, 75,000 over a lifetime!
How many coffee cups do we need in a lifetime? One. Unless it breaks of course. Let’s say we need 10 made out of glass or ceramic. How many do we use? If we drink at a coffee shop from “trashable” cups every day and then make some coffee at work in the styro cup, we use on an average of 10 cups a week. That’s 39,000 cups in a lifetime!
How many plastic forks and knifes do we use? Let’s say we use 6 per week. That’s 312 per year and 23,400 over a lifetime. (I’m averaging 75 years.)
These numbers are just wild guesses, but they are staggering! We live in a world where everything is used once. Once! Paper and plastic plates, plastic-ware, packaging, bags (paper and plastic), paper towels, straw and stir sticks, dust wipes, bottles, and containers, just to name a few things.
It saddens me that we forget to treasure things as our grandparents did. They took care of everything! Their shoes, clothes, furniture, china, carpet, etc. They didn’t need to throw things away constantly, but in today’s world, even though I recycle, I constantly find myself throwing something away, in the recycling bin or otherwise.
I’d love to challenge myself and all of us to really look at everything in December that we purchase. What is the packaging made out of? How much packaging is used vs. how much is needed? What does the label say? Is the product we buy made of raw material (wood, metal, glass)? Is it made of recycled material? Where will I put the “by product” which is the packaging? How do I transport things? How effective are my trips? Where is the product made? America or overseas?
Let’s buy with as little packaging as possible. Let’s be proud of America and buy American Made. Let’s leave the packaging behind for the manufacturers to clean up at the store. Let’s buy food at the bulk store and bring our own containers. Let’s make family dinners from fresh Farmer’s Market produce instead of packaged produce. Let us carpool together or take the bus together to the parties.
I believe we all can pitch in to reduce our waste, not just by recycling. This is a challenge, even for me. I do the minimum by bringing my own bag and my own cup and utensils. I don’t drive and I compost. I reduced my impact quite a lot, but I’m not even close to what I could do to really reduce my footprint to actually make a difference.
But with your help, I can do it and you can do it with me. This is the best present we can give during the holidays. That we are sustainable and purposeful in our spending and our wastefulness.
I wish you all a very Happy Holiday Season, a fantastic New Year and I thank you for reading my newsletters and doing your best to be sustainable!
Enci is a Mother, Actress, Artist and Activist.
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