The Recycling Crisis Explained

recycling bin

Recycling is not as successful as many people may think. But we continue to tell ourselves it’s okay to use disposable packaging. We think it’s going to be recycled and have another life. But, unfortunately that’s usually not the case.

I recently listened to a Podcast titled “So, should we Recycle?” by NPR which educated me on the world of recycling. Now in turn, I hope you can learn something new!

Let’s start with the History of Recycling

1992 is when China first started buying the recyclables from the U.S because they were desperate for raw materials. But, much of it was unusable because it was unsorted and dirty. Consequently much of it got dumped in rivers and oceans.

Since then China’s pollution laws have become stricter. In 2018 China banned imports of dirty, foreign recyclables. But, as a result warehouses across the nation are now filling to the brim with our recyclables. We’re all just waiting for a buyer or a solution.

A lot of people have described this situation as the “recycling crisis”. While others like Steve Alexander, the president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers says otherwise.

“The whole crisis narrative has been wrong. China didn’t break recycling. It has given us the opportunity to begin investing in the infrastructure we need in order to do it better”

I prefer this perspective. We should celebrate this change instead of seeing it as a problem or crisis. Because I think this situation can and will lead to change for the better.

At this point you may be asking…

What can I do differently to help?

I think the first step is recycling better and smarter!

  • Clean out your recyclables.
  • Be aware of what is recycled and what goes to landfills. Many people assume items such as plastic straws, eating utensils, and plastic bags are recyclable. But in reality, many things don’t make it through the process. Look for the recycling symbol if you’re not sure!

Reduce and Reuse before you Recycle

Prioritize the 3 R’s of sustainability. I think Reduce and Reuse are the most important.

For example, if you don’t use the plastic bag then you don’t have to worry about recycling it. If you use reusable products in your everyday life then you don’t have to worry about wasting resources.

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