Despite what you may have heard, some people say recycling is a bunch of garbage. There was a time not so long ago when people didn’t even think about their waste and where it ended up. They just threw it away. The environmental crisis of 1987 – when Americans became motivated to address their country’s waste problems – began an environmental movement that would redefine the national view on trash.
Believing there was no more room for garbage in landfills, people began to assume recycling was their only option. But there are others who suggest the cheapest and most convenient option is to bury waste in environmentally-safe landfills. In a time when the planet seems more in crisis than ever, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are just a few reasons why recycling is more than garbage:
Recycling Is a Moral Imperative
According to naysayers, there is no real imperative to recycling, as doing so tends to benefit a small segment of society, such as environmental organizations, waste-handling companies, politicians looking for a platform, and public relations representatives. Such individuals believe recycling is contemporary America’s most wasteful activity, depleting the country of money, energy, natural resources, and time.
Critics may also feel it is a problem exaggerated by the hyperbolic narrative of journalists. In essence, they assert the need for recycling is not real. Instead, they feel Americans have embraced recycling out of an emotional need to help the planet. Such individuals argue this need is more about seeking moral redemption than actually cleaning up the Earth.
Although it is undeniable that Americans are generating tons of debris, the cathartic process of recycling gives people the ability to justify their consumerism and its attendant waste by offering a solution to the problem. People are able to “confess” their misdeeds to the planet by throwing recyclable items in blue bins, all the while never getting to the root of why they generated that waste in the first place.
Recycling what we are able is crucial to the future of our planet and next generations. However, reducing and reusing also have their place. Rather than simply recycling what is easiest, it is important for individuals to take responsibility in other ways. This includes generating less waste in the first place, whether or not the materials in question are recyclable.
Recycling Is More Effective If Guidelines Are Followed
It would seem the recycling process has gone awry. By pushing to increase the rate of recycling, waste companies distributed bigger bins, while neglecting to enforce the act of sorting by the customer. As a result, the recycling stream has become increasingly polluted and less useful, putting the entire system in jeopardy.
This lack of clarity has also led many people to begin “experimenting,” perhaps with positive intentions, by tossing in all sorts of different materials that may or may not be recyclable. These items include things like rubber, clothes hangers, shoes, holiday lights, or garden hoses. Consequently, the whole recycling process has become a burden on society rather than a savior to the planet.
Public information campaigns should emphasize the importance of adhering to municipalities’ recycling policies. If individuals are made aware that recycling unsuitable items, or otherwise not following guidelines, can jeopardize the processing of recyclable materials, then they are more likely to follow those guidelines.
Recycling Contaminated Material Represents an Opportunity
Up until now, it would seem the major drawbacks to poor recycling practices and misguided motivations are manageable, and can be addressed by simply improving recycling methods and public information campaigns. But what if misinformed recycling practices could actually jeopardize our health? As it turns out, they can.
One of the biggest obstacles to true effectiveness in the recycling world is contamination. If there are impurities or toxins on recycled materials like lead paint or aluminum spray cans when they enter the recycling journey, they can potentially contaminate the new product for which they were repurposed.
Many of these toxic materials can actually make it through the entire recycling process without detection. As a result, they can cause toxicity in the new product, which might be something like a soda can. In this way, the recycling mistakes of the past can impact the future. What is most disquieting about this fact is how these contaminants go undetected until it’s too late.
While it’s hard to imagine this actually happening, it has actually occurred in different parts of the world. Recycled steel used to build skyscrapers in Taiwan seemed like a great idea until it was discovered people were exposed to gamma radiation poisoning as a result of the toxins in the materials used to create the steel. This realization has been a lesson in what it means to take recycling seriously.
Even when it comes to recycling more everyday materials, contamination is a concern. For example, glass breaks easily and may contain residue that contaminates the material during the recycling process, rendering a great deal of that material unusable. And the cost of hauling away glass-heavy recyclables vastly outweighs the ease of just disposing of them in a functioning landfill to begin with.
Although the recycling process is far from perfected, many materials that are currently considered waste are too valuable to simply abandon. The earth’s resources are finite, so we need to be able to reclaim what we can. Additionally, conducting research and development will not only lead to breakthroughs in our ability to recycle more materials more efficiently, it will lead to additional jobs. Recycling processes may also have other applications that are good for both Earth and the economy.