Under my sink is a blue bin, where I put all my recycling to be sorted outside of my door. There is a bin for glass, a bag for paper, and the big blue bin for hard plastics, and even the soft plastics can be taken to the recycling depot. Between all of this and our composting bin, barely anything goes into our small garbage bin, but it doesn’t really matter because we still recycle too much.
The world has really embraced recycling, but that isn’t always a good thing. So many people think that recycling is the be all and end all to their environmental efforts. As long as the items aren’t making it into the garbage bin, I can continue to use as much as I want. There are the three R’s (or I much prefer the five R’s) and recycling is not the top priority of either of them:
These are meant to be the order in which we centre our lives but recycling has become so much of the forefront. We need to work on not buying things we need, using up what we already have in our overfilled homes, share items between our friends and neighbours, and then maybe we can consider buying items in “recyclable packaging”.
Recycling seems like such a magical word doesn’t it? We send our used packaging materials away and they magically all turn into something else. But in reality things don’t work out that way.
First is the issue with contamination. If the materials we send to recycling still have bits of food or residue in them they can contaminate the full batch so at best they are individually thrown away and at worst they make the enter load unusable.
Then there is the reality of figuring out if the items are even recyclable in the first place. I found this handy guide to plastics and it shows some of the common items in each category and whether or not they are recyclable (though this is different wherever you live)
Paper recycling is generally easier, but there are many items that seem recyclable but aren’t such as receipts (which usually contain BPA) or cups from places such as Starbucks and Tim Hortens which may seem like paper on the outside but are really lined with plastic. Again the more of these items that are thrown into our recycling systems the more contamination happens and the less actually gets recycled.
Then there is the problem about where our recycling actually goes. Most of the time our recycling doesn’t stay in our country, but is rather shipped overseas to other countries (mainly in Asia) for them to process. Many of these countries have started putting restrictions lately on what they will accept however, throwing western countries into turmoil, but maybe making us look a little bit more into what recycling actually means.
Now I am not saying all of this to scare you out of recycling, of course it is important, but maybe not as important as the world has made it seem. There are many items that have a really good recycling rates such as aluminum cans, paper such as newspaper, glass (though see if you can reuse them first for storage or other uses),
We are using items in an alarming rate and things aren’t going to just disappear from the world. Recycling still keeps the items in the world so we need to start by figuring out how to create and use less in the first place.
This infographic from the WWF shows some great ways to refuse, reduce, reuse, and rot items to avoid relying on recycling.
I know this all seems a little overwhelming, it definitely does to me, but start with just one thing. Try and remember to bring your reusable water bottle or coffee mug more often, pack a lunch instead of getting take out, and opt out of getting junk mail.
Recycling is a great thing and we should still try and keep as much out of the landfill as possible, but we should also try and create as little recycling as possible.