4Rs Tips for 5.20.2022 – Does Recycling Work? Your Thoughts
But First… An Ask
My application has been accepted to attend the Climate Reality Project leadership training in Las Vegas, June 10th – 13th, 2022. Yay!
Now I need to come up with the funds to get there. While I have airline credits (I know, not a sustainable way to travel but I will fly non-stop to reduce emissions), I don’t have the funds for the hotel (over $1,000), meals, and ground transportation. The training is free. I have started a GoFundMe page to ask for donations. Any amount will help me reach my goal and go to the training. Thank you!
And Now… For the Real Elephant in the Room
A Burning Question and Frustration – Does Recycling Work?
I talked about the elephant in the room when I discussed reducing waste recently, but I have to admit that the real elephant in the room is how crappy recycling is. Turns out, the first elephant was about waste reduction, because recycling doesn’t work very well. If it had been working all these years we’ve been doing it, we’d have more recycled packaging today.
94% of Americans support recycling
We want to get it right but we are frustrated by inaction from corporate polluters.
As I look at the comments from people who have taken my recycling survey (see the numbers below), I found that people are frustrated because we’ve been increasingly doing our part, but companies and big industries have not. This fits with comments I hear when I talk to people about recycling. Though this is starting to change, it’s not happening fast enough.
Our governments need to put pressure on manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry that makes plastics. And, we need to pressure our governments to do this.
Without buy-in from governments and the companies making products, plastic recycling will continue to be ineffective
What’s the point of recycling if it doesn’t work?
Actually, it does work… for paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. In general, over half of these materials get used again because they’re pretty basic and easy to recycle. Unfortunately, that’s not true for plastics.
Two key elements have been lacking in making our recycling successful and they revolve around plastic packaging.
- The infrastructure to process plastics into another usable material is minimal and the demand is low.
- There are too many types of plastics which makes it difficult to recycle them. Only #1 and #2 are easily recycled because the process to turn them into another plastic is more common and has been around for a while.
- Virgin plastics made from fossil fuels are cheaper than recycled, and manufacturers have no incentive to pay for more expensive recycled materials and packaging.
- The companies making products, especially the packaging, need to be held accountable for it and what happens to the materials at end of use.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws require manufacturers to take responsibility for how their packaging is made and what happens to it after we use it. Many countries have these and last year Maine became the first state in the US to pass an EPR law. We need more of these laws since this is a critical step toward the circularity of our waste.
- Demand will increase for recycled plastics when we have more EPR laws in place requiring manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling and use of them.
If they’re forced to, corporations can and will build the recycling systems to take care of plastics.
What should we do?
Support local laws that promote circularity.
It fascinates me that more people in the US vote in the national elections than in local ones when it’s the local elections that affect our lives the most. While I’m not familiar with how elections work in other countries, I am sure of one thing… if we don’t vote our elected officials don’t know what we care about.
I will admit, I didn’t use to vote locally very often. But my love for Mother Earth led me to understand that is how I can help protect her.
Vote locally to impact our everyday lives and the planet
In the US, local initiatives are what make a difference. Laws around container deposits, packaging, and toxic materials like polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam) are being enacted due to pressure from people and grassroots efforts.
We need more bottle deposit laws and existing ones need improving.
Currently, 10 of the 50 states in the US have bottle deposit laws. Some are more effective than others.
I spent most of my life in Michigan where a Bottle Bill has been in place since 1978 that requires retailers who sell beverages to take back the containers. It works great. Grocers now have automated machines where you insert your container and get your ten-cent deposit back. I became aware that effective recycling programs like Michigan’s were uncommon when I moved to California. We have deposit laws in my new state, but it is difficult to return bottles, especially for someone like me who is disabled.
Bottle deposit laws are one of the most effective forms of recycling.
- Proven effective, bottle return regulations have been around since the 1800s.
- It is estimated that the return rate is around 90% with bottle deposits.
- When returned, these materials require minimal sorting and are almost guaranteed to be recycled.
- Around 40 countries have bottle deposit laws. Some of these have yet to be enacted.
There’s a reason laws have cropped up banning plastic shopping bags and toxic carryout containers.
Plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers are bad for the environment and they don’t easily recycle. These are two of our most dangerous forms of plastic waste (yes, polystyrene is plastic), which is why more communities around the globe are banning them.
- There are 77 countries that have passed partial or full plastic bag bans.
- Eight states in the US now have plastic bag bans, some include polystyrene bans.
- Thanks to grassroots efforts in the US, Colorado passed a law to ban these disposable plastics in 2021.
Pay attention to measures and bills proposed in your local elections and stay informed so you can vote for the planet. Support candidates that act to protect our environment.
These are things that will get recycling moving in the right direction and help us deal with our plastics problem.
We’ve built our recycling habits and our waste isn’t going away so we have to keep trying.
We know recycling makes sense, but we feel helpless to make it work. But giving up is not an option. We have no Planet B, as the expression goes.
We have to get out in our community and push for our environmental rights. It’s the only solution. And from what I’m learning, most of us want to do something.
And the Survey Says… 4 Months of Survey Input Reveals We Care
When people get to know me and find out I’m kind of a recycling nut (maybe more than kind of) they often come to me with questions. How? Why? All that good stuff.
This inspired me to start this blog. Though it’s about more than recycling – reducing waste is my main focus – we still need to get recycling right and I want to help us do that. The best way is through understanding.
I launched my recycling survey to accompany the blog in order to understand people’s thoughts on recycling and their burning questions. Of the 75 responses so far, I’ve learned that…
- Like me, very few people (less than 20% in the survey) are confident that what they put in their bin gets recycled.
- About 70% either strongly or somewhat agree that they have recycling available and it’s not hard to use.
- While 90% agree that, given the climate crisis it is important we recycle correctly.
Here are the questions. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please do. It helps with my research.
- I have recycling services available to me where I live and they are not difficult to use.
- I recycle and feel I do it correctly.
- I am confident that what I put in my recycling gets turned into another product or packaging.
- I know who provides my recycling services and I check with them regularly for changes and updates as to what and how to recycle correctly.
- I try to buy products and packaging made from recycled materials.
- Given the current state of our climate, I feel it’s important that people recycle correctly.
From the comments in the survey, I’m not the only one frustrated by our poor recycling. The good news is, that the most effective cure to frustration is to act. To do something that can help us change and get others to do the same. While I am working on responding to specific questions in the survey, I hope that I have been answering some of them in my post.
Click here if you’re new to this blog and want to know what it’s all about.
With Much Gratitude
That’s it for this week. If you like this post, please forward it to every earth-friendly human you know.
I hope, with your help, to make it to Las Vegas in June and learn more about how to fight for our planet. Please share this post and visit my GoFundMe page to help me get there.
Drop me a line anytime if you have questions or comments. I love hearing from you.
Thank you for reading these tips and subscribing. Pat yourself on the back for doing your part. Remember, every little bit helps.
You got this!