Why the idea of recycling is getting flawed

If you didn’t know, I’m the kind of person that doesn’t mind helping out the environment. After all, I do care about the air I breathe, the water I drink, and the food I eat. Who wouldn’t? I don’t see any issue with trying our best to minimize our impacts, but within a reasonable expectation (not exactly a global warming believer). That’s why I want to talk about recycling, and how the idea of it has been beaten to death that it’s no longer a really good solution if you want to build up your green quota.

When you think of trying to be green, you probably first think of recycling. Companies that often make a lot of disposable products, like Coca Cola, love to promote recycling as a super green solution that will solve everything. They couldn’t be more wrong with reality, despite how much we like their products.

I recycle. I try my best to recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum. This comes to my first flaw of recycling: Recycling is NOT simple. How so in my case?

  • Collecting recyclables – You need more bins or bags, you need to have extra space, and ensure it’s contained safely. Bugs and bees love any remaining liquids in beverage cans/bottles, rodents love paper, and so on. Depending where you live, recycling service may be irregular compared to the trash schedule, which also brings me to my next point…
  • No curbside recycling – My HOA won’t do it. They claim there are some extra fees and that there is some requirement we have 10,000 residents here, even though the 2 subdivisions close to us have curbside and don’t seem to have 10K residents. So I have to drive to the elementary school nearby to drop off at least the paper and aluminum stuff. Luckily they’re part of the PaperRetriever program and the PTO offers an aluminum can collection for money. Only plastics I save come in the beverage bottle type. Save those to take to the University of Houston or any other spot, but usually have to drop in one by one. No way I can recycle glass, unless I’m a city resident (I live in unincorporated Harris County) since county services don’t offer it. It’s a greater pain when you know some family that has curbside, but doesn’t use it.
  • Sorting what CAN’T be recycled – Different recycling services often have different rules to what can and can’t be recycled. It’s a pain having to sort. No number 6 plastics in most places, so no Yoplait yogurt containers. Paper products soiled with grease or food remnants are a no, so too bad pizza boxes and fast food containers. Broken glass is a no. The list goes on and on.
  • Overfilled bins – Very often, bins get piled up. Trash is checked on daily, but expectations on people recycling are low, so they don’t get checked enough. You want to do the right thing, but with the bin stacked over the top and no way to leverage it on there, are you going to hold onto it until you reach the next closest bin, or would you throw it in the trash bin instead? It can be a tough call when you have to sacrifice convenience.

The 2nd flaw about recycling: Most people don’t care. Do you know what’s worse to a greenie than a person that tosses an aluminum can in the trash bin, than a recycling bin right next to it? People who toss garbage in the recycling bin. It’s disrespectful, very lazy, and can spoil the whole container depending on the severity of what was tossed in.

As someone that has volunteered with recycling pick-up at my middle school, high school, and now my college at the university, I have found ridiculous amounts of abuse with what lands in the bin. The worst is a mixture of either leftover sweet soda, water, or coffee that peoplee hadn’t finished and tossed in. Worse when it lands in the paper bin. You also have dirty tissues, soiled napkins, and other ranges of nastiness. Then there’s stuff that can’t be recycled, that most people don’t know about like pizza boxes, and other junk even when we have signs posting what can’t go in.

My roommate, who I have very close bonds with, can’t take himself to recycle. He’s a good person, but he drinks lots and lots of Diet Cokes all the time. Maybe 6+ a day. I can always hear the clang of a can or bottle as it hits in the trash can under his desk, even when there’s a recycling bin right down the hallway of our dorm! Paper products too. My former roommate at my first dorm was at least cool enough to take my offer of him leaving bottles/cans on my dresser so I could take down to the nearest recycle bin (which was usually overfilled). So our waste stream probably has tons of stuff that could potentially have been recycled, but didn’t have the access or were too lazy to put in a recycling bin.

Which comes to my third flaw: Recycling process isn’t totally efficient.

It’s said that even a small or minor contaminant in a bin or collection, could potentially make the whole bunch be tossed out in the garbage. Essentially, those people who recycled might as well have tossed it in the trash and not need someone to drive it over.

According to the Alkaline Paper Advocate, 73% of paper collected for recycling ends up tossed in landfills, 11% are in storage or in use, and the remaining 13% actually ends up in recycled paper products. So if you really wanted to make it worth it all, you need to support the purchase of products that are made of recycled content to show those companies that it does matter. Obviously, there’s too much supply but not enough demand.

It’s also said that the recycling process can be very anti-green. Fuel for transportation, water and power for processing, and special tools needed to make it work probably isn’t very environmentally-friendly. It’s wondered if the downsides outweigh the benefits for the environment.

So much money is spent invested in the collection, transportation, and processing of recycled materials, and only very little is gained both environmentally and monetarily.

I’m still going to try recycle, because I’m the kind of person that thinks every little bit counts, because it does. But considering the major flaws about recycling, I strongly encourage industries and societies to make it easier to minimize waste by having better methods in promoting conservation and reuse of materials, rather than a world where we have so many disposable junk.

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