Recycling has become synonymous with green living in America and is often touted as the supreme environmentally friendly solution to waste. However, despite its association with an eco-friendly lifestyle, recycling may not be the massively environmentally friendly activity it’s made out to be. Sure, it offers an alternative destination to a landfill for a soda can or plastic water bottle. And it can save quite a bit of energy when we don’t have to produce brand new soda cans and plastic water bottles every time one is used. But the process of recycling itself carries its own negative impact on the planet, putting into question just how sustainable and environmentally conscious of a waste solution this is.
A Look at the Numbers
As far as being a successful waste disposal method, recycling just isn’t taking hold in the United States in the same fashion it has in other countries. Currently, the U.S. recycles about 34.3 percent of the material in its waste stream.
Further, residential recycling in America is not as readily available in all parts of the country to make it a viable solution for waste. While San Francisco has achieved the highest waste diversion rates in North America due to recycling (and composting) with 80 percent of materials dodging landfills, other parts of the country have not been as successful.
Finally, while recycling can offer a more environmentally sustainable option than merely throwing all waste into landfills, it is not without environmental impact. Recycling facilities release emissions of their own which can cause air pollution problems as has been happening in Oakland, CA. Processing time, cost, and further emissions are increasing in some areas due to the complex sorting systems needed to separate the variety of items that end up in recycling bins. Items like plastic shopping bags, which are actually not recyclable in many facilities, can further complicate the system and make it less sustainable. In short, while recycling is meant to simplify our waste stream and weed out materials that can be recovered, in some ways recycling can make things more complicated and even carry a negative environmental impact of its own.
There R Other Options
So, recycling isn’t the perfect solution to our waste problems in America, but what are your other options?
Some things can be saved from the waste system if you simply give them a new purpose in your life. For example, the glass jar you’re left with after the pasta sauce is gone might make a new house for a windowsill herb garden in your kitchen, or a toothbrush holder in the bathroom.
Got a bike with broken parts? A couch with a torn cushion? You might be tempted to toss out these items and replace them with new ones, but if they aren’t beyond repair, why not just fix them instead? Sometimes all it takes is a little elbow grease to get something back in working order. Not only will you save money with this route, you’ll also save the energy and resources that would go into processing the waste materials your bike or couch would produce.
Instead of throwing out a working waffle iron, printer or lamp you no longer need or want, why not gift it to someone that will actually use it? Re-gifting an item will leave space open in the landfill or recycling facility, and will also help meet someone else’s needs without the energy and resources needed to produce a brand new waffle iron for them to buy.
You can end up avoiding an awful lot of waste by simply refusing it. If you can drink your beverage at a restaurant without a straw, then don’t take one. Don’t take a plastic shopping bag at the store if you only have a loaf of bread to carry out anyway. Some of the wasted items we acquire on a daily basis are actually quite easy to refuse if we only take a second to think.
Reduce As a First Resort
Now, we don’t want you to stop recycling altogether just because it isn’t a perfect waste disposal solution. Recycling is a great way to handle materials that can no longer fulfill a role in your life in their present form. But we do want to stress how recycling should be seen more as a later resort only when more environmentally friendly and sustainable options are not feasible.
Reducing should really be your main aim and go-to solution for dealing with waste in your life. It doesn’t require energy inputs, massive vehicle fleets, or produce dirty emissions at the end of the day. And it’s an option that is available to all citizens, regardless of their local municipal services and resources. All it takes is some brain power, creative thinking, and passion for planet earth to begin reducing waste today.
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Lead Image Source: Timothy Takemoto/ Flickr