Recycling alone does not protect the environment – in fact, relying on recycling is actually quite contradictory and detrimental to the environment. Many people think, “I recycle. I do my part. Good enough.” This is a naïve way of thinking and there is so much more that can be done.
Stop and Think About Air Pollution
Are we trading one evil for another? Recycling uses a lot of energy and creates a lot of air pollution. From all of the trucks that are running on fossil fuel to pick up the door to door recycling, to the recycling plants themselves. It really makes you wonder if recycling might not actually be a worse evil than the original waste. For example, in Washington State, the top four polluters in the area are all recycling plants. We assume we’re reducing waste by sending it to landfills, but at what cost?
Consider the Contamination
Most people don’t realize how many contaminated items make it in to the recycling circuit and that these impurities or toxins from the original material become hidden in a new product. For example, you could be drinking from a soda can that has lead paint remaining in it from when it was originally an aluminum spray can. We can’t be sure what is and that isn’t contaminated.
Do You Know About Paper Sludge?
Yuck. Recycled paper is mixed together into one sludgy, swampy pulp. The pulp is washed and cleaned to make new paper but during the process, all of the chemicals, dyes, inks, and fibers are washed out. The remains are either burned or sent to a landfill where it leaches dozens of heavy metals and toxic chemicals in to the groundwater. In this digital age, shouldn’t we be going paperless?
Are You Aware That Most Plastics Can’t Be Recycled?
That’s right. The plastic used in everyday items are made up of seven types of plastic, but only two types of those can be recycled. Most of the plastic that you’re putting into your recycling bin is sorted and unfortunately, a lot of this is tossed into landfill so that piece of plastic has now used up more resources than it would have if it had just gone straight into the garbage. The fuel of the truck to get it to the recycling plant, the resources to sort it, and then more fuel to drive it to the landfill – where you didn’t want it to end up in the first place. Talk about inefficient.
Recycling Creates a Dangerous Mindset
Recycling programs are counterproductive because they’re eliminating consumer accountability by washing away consumer guilt. If recycling was really about saving the planet and people cared enough, they wouldn’t be buying all of these products in the first place. Those who are serious about the environment buy eco-friendly products and also work to reduce their overall waste by buying fewer packaged goods.
What would be more helpful to the environment is if people took stronger steps to change what ends up in their recycling bins in the first place. We need to reduce our packaged goods such as cardboard boxes, laundry detergent jugs, soda pop cans, and a whole lot of packaging made with chemicals; they all need to go. Even when some items can be recycled, the toxins wash down into the earth and pollute our environment; groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually the ocean. And most of the “recycling” is still just ending up in landfills anyway. We need to change the way that we consume to reduce our individual footprints.
We Need To Reduce the Demand for These Products
The demand for recycled products, especially aluminum, is on the rise. The recycling systems – that we’ve already seen to be ineffective – can’t keep up with the demand. Even if the recycling plants were more efficient and the cans were all turned back into cans, we’re not creating enough recycled cans to keep up. Americans are drinking an average of 2 and a half cans of soda each day which amounts to 778 million cans. 100,000 cans are recycled every minute but we’re still 600 million cans short every single day. So the demand for more aluminum is on the rise and mining is becoming more and more aggressive.
It’s Time to Shift the Conversation
In the US alone, we’re still producing 250 million tons of trash every year. Do you remember the old saying, ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?’ What happened to the emphasis on the “reduce” and “reuse” parts of that equation? Recycling has become the emphasis and everyone is convinced that it’s acceptable to buy these excessively wasteful products because it will be recycled. We need to shift the thinking back to reducing waste. It’s time to change the conversation.
If you enjoyed this blog post check out our Carbonize App where you can take a look at how the carbon footprint of one thing stacks up against another.