Recycling is often the first item cited on sustainability checklists, and the first thing that comes to mind when we think “eco-friendly”. But what is recycling, and how can we, as a whole, recycle effectively?
What is Recycling?
Recycling is the collection and conversion of waste, from envelopes to styrofoam to plastics, into new, reusable items. In a perfect world, recycling could help us achieve the goal of zero waste, a sustainable economy where all products are recycled, and where materials are designed with the environment in mind.
Recycling is generally thought to be beneficial for the environment, and its practice has been on the rise in the past few years. However, the current recycling processes aren’t perfect.
What’s Wrong with the Recycling Process?
For one, many people are simply unable to recycle, as the practice isn’t available in their area. A study by a recycling startup in the USA found that more than 40 percent of American households don’t have access to recycling.
Contamination — when materials are placed in the wrong bin, it prevents a lot of items from being recycled. This also slows down the recycling process. Many materials collected in recycling, including straws, bags, and utensils, are often burned, sent to landfills, or end up in the ocean.
How Can We Improve Our Recycling Process?
There are many ways we can revitalize our recycling process. For one, we can create better technology to sort through and recover items. This will ensure that more waste is collected and recycled, without slowing down the recycling process.
We also need to make more products and their packaging reusable and recyclable. Some people have cast doubt on whether we can truly achieve sustainable production, but in 2018, large corporations including Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and H&M promised to create packaging that is recyclable, compostable, or reusable. This shows that faith in the recycling process and support of its use can maintain and further the demand of its practice.
Some cities and regions of the world have created effective plans to deal with recycling. For example, San Francisco keeps up to 80 percent of its waste away from landfills. They have done this by requiring everyone to divide their waste into three different bins: blue bins for recyclables, black for materials which will end up in the landfill, and green for compostables.
How Can We Recycle Effectively?
On top of advocating for improved recycling systems, there’s a lot you can do to ensure you recycle as effectively and efficiently as possible at home.
First, figure out what is recyclable in your area: not every item stamped with a recycling symbol can be processed locally. Find this information in your local recycling guide, which will tell you what can and cannot be thrown into your recycling bin, where to deposit particular recyclables, and which items are recyclable in your region.
Second, keep all recyclables clean. Dirty materials need cleaning to be recycled properly, and this slows down the automated recycling process. Contamination can even render these materials unrecyclable, and risk contaminating the rest of the recyclables.
Third, don’t place your recyclables in bags. Recyclable materials in bags are almost always sent to landfills, since it takes too much time to open them up. Place your recyclable materials in a recycling bin, unless your local recycling authority says otherwise.
Even though recycling can seem fairly simple, it’s crucial to step back, analyze the recycling process, and fully understand its advantages and drawbacks. Whether through improved materials, sorting technology, or personal action, there are so many ways to change the recycling process for the better.