The average American produces around 4.4 pounds of trash per day, and as a whole, the U.S. population generates 254 million tons of trash per year. Programs aimed at increasing recycling have existed for decades, but even with those efforts, we’re not recycling nearly as much as we should. It’s estimated that 75 percent of trash is recyclable, but of that amount, only about 34.3 percent is actually being recycled. And since convenience often takes priority over environmental impact, we’re disposing of trash at an alarming rate. Water bottles are one of the biggest culprits — according to a recent article in The Guardian, one million water bottles are purchased globally every minute, and fewer than half are being recycled.
A staggering 91 percent of the world’s plastic isn’t recycled, and by 2050, the world’s oceans will have more plastic than fish. With plastic trash destroying our environment, poisoning our water, and killing marine life, it’s important for us to not only work toward increasing recycling in our communities but to also seek out alternatives to disposable products and work toward protecting our planet from further harm.
Increasing Recycling Through Education
Even in communities with well-established recycling programs, there remains a lot of confusion about what items can actually be recycled. One example is plastic bags and wraps, which typically require special recycling but usually end up in the trash or placed with regular recyclables, where they can clog machinery.
The city of Vancouver, Washington decided to remedy this issue by implementing a Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP) campaign to educate people about proper recycling of these items. According to a report by Greener Package, the campaign helped decrease plastic bag contamination at recycling facilities by 75 percent, and overall collection of plastic bags at designated collection sites increased by an incredible 125 percent.
Community recycling events are another way people are working to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills. At these events, residents can drop off items like mattresses, light bulbs, old clothing, and shoes, which are then recycled into new products or turned into insulation or furniture filling. Without these programs, people would be tossing away items that can be repurposed into something new.
Making Recycling Accessible to Communities
In some communities, recycling is as easy as tossing items into a designated container at our apartment or home, then having the recycling company haul it away for us. But not everyone has that convenience, especially in smaller or more rural communities. When easy curbside pickup isn’t available from large recycling companies, dedicated community members have taken it into their own hands to make recycling programs easy and accessible.
After learning that a curbside recycling program wasn’t available in his Minnesota town, Noah Brogle, a high school student, and environmentalist, decided to start his own in an effort to encourage recycling in his community. His company, One Earth Recycling, now serves his neighboring towns as well, and he spends his weekends hauling recyclable trash to the county drop-off facility.
In Nigeria, Billikiss Adebiyi Abiola wanted to help reduce waste in local communities where a lack of waste collection is causing pollution problems. To help address the issue she founded Wecyclers, a company where collectors travel to communities on cargo bikes to collect recyclable waste and bring it to recycling centers. As an incentive, program participants receive “points” they can use to purchase food and other goods for their families.
Getting Children Involved in Recycling Initiatives
You’re never too young to make an impact in your community. In California, a seven-year-old boy named Ryan started his own recycling program, Ryan’s Recycling, after being inspired by a visit to a recycling center when he was only three. Since 2012, this pint-sized environmentalist saved over 60,000 pounds of recyclables from going into landfills, and he has donated over five thousand dollars in proceeds from his t-shirt sales to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
Schools are also working to teach children about the importance of recycling, encouraging them to increase recycling efforts at school, home, and in the community. Some even add a competitive twist to their efforts by encouraging students to participate in competitions where teams work together to create a recycling program. By instilling these values at a young age, children learn to understand the importance of protecting the planet, and it helps create sustainable habits they’ll share with their families and friends.
What You Can Do
Recycling is a great way to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, but to have the greatest impact, it’s important for us to focus on buying and using less. By opting for reusable alternatives to plastic water bottles, bags, silverware, and other disposables, you’re reducing waste and preventing dangerous toxins from polluting the environment. Learn more about how you can help by checking out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign.
Lead image source: Intel Free Press/Flickr