After the successful launch of Global Recycling Day in 2018, the Global Recycling Foundation has announced that on March 18, Global Recycling Day will take place for a second time and with the theme of “Recycling into the Future.”
Global Recycling Day 2019 will focus on the power of education to ensure a brighter future for the planet. On this day, people around the world will be encouraged to show their support for recycling.
BUT recycling is not the only solution. There is more that has to be done.
This month should also focus on reducing, reusing, and rethinking our habits. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on our consumption and the amount of waste we produce as individuals. It’s also a chance to lead by example.
While there are many pros to recycling, there are also many cons. Recycling is often done incorrectly on both the consumer and management side of things.
In America alone, 65% of the population doesn’t recycle in the first place (and a lot of people are even still littering, believe it or not), but those that try to do their part and throw their plastics in a recycling bin are often firing blindly, so to speak. There is a lack of knowledge and education (and lots of times, a bit of laziness) when it comes to tossing stuff into the recycling bin.Or, some people care so much that try to recycle everything (wishful recyclers) but are only making things worse.
In an effort to boost recycling participation, cites and towns across the U.S. and Canada have introduced single-stream recycling, where people put all of their recyclables into the same bin, and the waste management center sorts them and sends them off to other facilities for recycling. Because of this single-stream way of doing things, recycling has become easier for consumers. As a result, recycling efforts per household has substantially increased, but the chances for contamination have skyrocketed.
Contamination refers to the remnants of food and drink left in recyclable items as well as the presence of non-recyclable items mixed in with recyclable items. In Toronto, over 1/4 of recycling bins are contaminated.
For instance, most municipalities require recyclable bottles, glasses, cans, and containers to be rinsed before tossing them into the recycling bin. Just a few spoonfuls of peanut butter left in a jar can contaminate a ton of paper and make it unmarketable and thus destined for the dump. Same for that last bit of juice at the bottom of its plastic bottle.
Almost one in three pounds of what goes into a residential Canadian recycling bin known as a “blue box” shouldn't be there. Whether it’s out of laziness, a lack of knowledge about what is recyclable, or wishful recycling – all kinds of things are making their way into these bins.
It can be difficult to know what to do with your recyclables, let alone know what is even recyclable to begin with. For those genuinely trying to do the right thing, there can be a lot of confusing and hard-to-find information out there. In the U.S. and Canada, there isn’t a universal recycling code. Even things that sometimes have a “recycle” symbol on them (like a lot of plastic coffee lids) may be presenting false information according to Jim McKay, the general manager of waste management services for the City of Toronto.
Even more concerning, there can be lack of transparency about what happens to our recyclables once they’re picked up from the curb.
They may be ending up in places you did not expect.
For more than 25 years, many developed countries, including the U.S. and Canada, have been sending massive amounts of plastic waste to China instead of recycling it on their own. Some 106 million metric tons (about 45%) of the world’s plastic waste set for recycling has been exported to China. In 2017, the U.S. alone sent more than 70% to China and Hong Kong. It goes like this: our plastic products are produced in China, to be used by consumers in the U.S., to be shipped back to China. Think about all of those emissions!
But with this “out of sight, out of mind” approach comes consequences.
In the summer of 2018, China cracked down on foreign waste and began redirecting U.S. recyclables to developing countries within Southeast Asia. Nearly half the plastic waste exported from the U.S. for recycling in the first six months of 2018 was shipped to Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. These countries and the environment have been exploited as there is no regulatory framework in place to ensure plastic waste is processed in a sustainable way.
If you haven’t already seen the chilling youtube clips of plastics being dumped directly into natural bodies of water, our diverted recyclables are being unaccounted for and, oftentimes, improperly disposed of.
With China’s crackdown, plastics and papers from dozens of American cities and towns are also just being dumped into landfills. While some waste managers started sending recyclables to other places to be processed domestically or to other countries, others haven’t been able to find a reliable or profitable substitute with China out of the picture.
The waste is building up rapidly.
When it comes to single-use plastic in particular like disposable plastic straws, the majority of it is not recycled or even deemed recyclable by most North American municipalities. Many town recycling centers don’t even accept this kind of plastic in the first place. They get sorted out of recycling bins at most recycling centers, and even if some facilities do claim to recycle them, small single-use plastic items like plastic utensils and straws fall right through the cracks (quite literally, they fall through recycling machinery).
Because of all of this, less than 9% of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever made has been recycled. 12% has been burned in incineration plants, and the majority, 79%, has ended up in landfills and nature (including the oceans).
Just recycling is not the ultimate solution.
But here is what you can do to take control of your waste.
- Reduce what you use and the amount of waste you produce
In the case of plastics, they are making their way into oceans, the water we drink, and the food that we eat. In fact, tiny plastic particles (micro plastics) have been found in 94% of tap water in the U.S. as well as in the most common commercial salts from around the world.
So much plastic is entering our environment that the World Economic Forum predicts there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Because plastic can remain in the environment for more than 2,000 years, it’s building up inconceivably faster than it can disappear.
There are so many ways in which we are using plastic unnecessarily, and for most of us, disposable plastic straws are one of them. They are the 7th most commonly picked up item during ocean cleanups and pose a significant risk to sea turtles, fish, birds, and other marine animals. Like any other single-use plastic, they are mistaken for food by marine animals because of their lightweight buoyancy, and because they break up into tiny plankton and algae-like micro plastics that get lodged into the animals’ muscle tissues and cell membranes.
It’s as simple as saying “no straw please” on the checkout line.
By making something like this a new habit, it will help you notice and be mindful of other ways in which you’re using plastic unnecessarily, whether it’s using plastic grocery bags, using take-away plastic utensils, or using take-away cups from cafes.
You have the power to say no.
- Choose items that you can reuse
Reusing goes hand in hand with reducing. In the case of straws, carrying around a reusable straw is a great way to help you say no to disposable plastic ones.
Our StrawHopper straws can help you reduce and reuse. They are made with quality and super durable reusable glass that never has to see a landfill.
Should yours need to be replaced, they have a lifetime guarantee. We make sure our straws are as eco-friendly as possible by using non-borosilicate glass to safeguard its recyclability. We can make these straws and recycle all the raw material and off cuts that we cannot use. This type of glass is often found in glass bottles and window panes. Borosilicate glass, on the other hand, cannot be recycled.
These straws are the only straws on the market that can be indefinitely reused and recycled. Though there are flaws with municipal recycling, non-borosilicate glass is one of the most recyclable materials when compared to others like plastic, paper, and aluminum.
StrawHopper is conscious of how the straws are produced, for example, they will never be sold in different colors because to create colored glass in the first place is a chemical reaction causes A LOT of air pollution. We also partner with non-profit organizations like One Percent for the Planet, so purchasing a StrawHopper straw means that you’re supporting the development of various environmental projects and strategies. Check out our straws here.
Single-use plastics should never be reused, however. Hence the name “single-use.” They are not designed to be used over and over again.
Almost all commercially available plastic products have been shown to leach chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body, even those advertised as being BPA-free (some BPA-free products may be releasing even more potent fake estrogens or “xenoestrogens” than its counterpart, ironically). What’s dangerous about this is that estrogenic activity from plastic can cause serious adverse health effects such as breast cancer in women and potentially wreak havoc on fetal and child development.
Whether it be reusing a disposable plastic straw or refilling a single-use plastic water bottle, these polypropylene and polyethylene-based plastics can be even more harmful when reused. While it’s great to want to be more sustainable, reusing single-use plastics increases the chance that chemicals (like BPA) will leach out. This is due to the little cracks and wear and tear that form on the plastic over time after each use.
So reuse smartly!
3) Rethink your behavior and choices as a consumer
Think about where in your life you’re producing waste that can be avoided.
Reducing and reusing helps us hold accountability for our own waste and allows us to take control rather than just relying on our cities and governments to handle it (we see what’s happening to our recyclables!).
I’m not saying to not recycle, rather I’m encouraging you to take a look at ways you can reduce and reuse first. Recycling should be secondary. When recycling, make sure to educate yourself on how to recycle better. Not every municipality will be transparent about how to do things correctly, so it’s important to be your own advocate and seek the information yourself.
Also, every municipality does things differently and there isn’t a “one size fits all” way of recycling. What is allowed in one town’s recyclable bin may not be allowed in yours. In addition, it’s a good idea to take some extra time to rinse out your recyclable jars, bottles, and containers to give them more a fighting chance to be recycled.
Here are some other things you can do:
- In addition to saying “no straw please” don’t be shy to say other things like “no bag please.” Remember the value of your actions and what it means for the planet. The more you do this, the more you will get used to it, and the more confident you will be to say no.
- Aside from just single-use plastics, think about other ways in which you can reuse, repurpose, and upcycle through donating, selling, and buying secondhand clothing, accessories, furniture, etc. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Your local secondhand store, Facebook Marketplace, Depop, and thredUP are all great resources that make it easy to live more consciously. On Hipcycle, you can find all kinds of upcycled goods from bike parts to e-waste. You may also want to consider starting a “stuff swap” group in your community via Meetup.
- Support recycling companies like TerraCycle (they’re international!) that are transparent. Because it’s not the best to only rely on municipal recycling to do the right thing, consider getting rid of your waste in another way. They also find a way to upcycle those other things that are not deemed recyclable like coffee capsules and pens. You can check their website to see where they have drop-off locations or where to send them in. In the U.S., Preserve is another great company that collects number 5 (polypropylene) plastics and turns them into things like toothbrushes. You can find drop-off locations at places like Whole Foods, or you can send them in as well. And for the Canadians living in British Columbia, Recycle BC is a great non-profit resource to help guide you with your recycling.
Right now, it’s more important than ever to reduce the amount of resources being used and the amount of waste being produced. All you need to do is incorporate some small changes into your daily lifestyle.
Your environmental footprint matters. And boy, does doing your part feel rewarding!
To a more conscious today,
More recycling and upcycling resources
International Coastal Cleanup
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