Recycling may not be what you think it is.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s the mantra of the environmental movement and is always the very first thing taught to us when it comes to environmentalism. Recycling is important, but does it actually have that big of an impact?
An overwhelming amount of the plastic produced does not get recycled. According to a 2019 National Geographic study, 91% of the plastic winds-up not being recycled; the EPA estimates that number could be even higher. There is a lack of consistent information about what can be recycled and how. It’s a lot more complicated than just putting anything with a recycling symbol into the blue bin.
When plastic is recycled, it has to be sorted by plastic-type, cleaned of food and liquid residue, dried to avoid contamination, shredded into pieces, melted down, and then molded and formed into whatever product it will be. Each time plastic goes through that lengthy process it loses durability, making it harder to process the next time. As a result, virgin plastic is not only less expensive, but preferred for quality reasons, which is understandable. So, why not remove plastic altogether?
Glass and metal can be recycled infinitely and made into new products without compromising the quality; they’re also accepted by almost all recycling services. There’s no worry if your recycling efforts are going to waste because glass and metal do not need to be in the “best condition possible” to process. Many factors go into recycling and it’s obvious that the recycling process causes a never-ending loop of plastic waste. So why is this confusing system pushed on us?
We often forget that big corporations force the responsibility of recycling onto the consumers to evade the blame for polluting the environment. Plastic is everywhere and it’s not realistic for people to completely avoid using it. Slapping a big recycle sign on a plastic product isn’t going to cut it. There needs to be regulations and incentives for companies to make sustainable changes.
What we can do in the meantime is uplift and purchase from companies that focus on their social and environmental performance. But more importantly, be mindful of our consumption. Recycling can sometimes take the guilt out of overconsumption since we know there is a plan b. But plan b is not working.