Although it may sound crazy in this day of increased efforts, new studies in 2017 tell us only about 2 percent of the waste on the planet is actually recycled. This is a surprisingly low number given the amount of energy, effort, and money dedicated to this goal. To put the situation into perspective, it’s important to remember that most items – from diapers to batteries – can be recycled with the right approach.
And this “approach” largely relates the how much society is willing to innovate and spend to make it happen. At the moment, certain items are not recycled only because the law prevents it.
For example, medical waste must be incinerated for health reasons, while international airlines cannot recycle onboard garbage due to concerns over contamination. However, outside of these legalities, there are many other reasons why recycling isn’t more widespread and comprehensive.
Why isn’t recycling more widespread?
While it may seem like America is recycling more than ever, the world of waste tells us this number is actually in decline. There are several reasons behind this trend. First, China, which is also trying to “green” its practices, is now unwilling to accept some of the waste products the US previously sent overseas for processing.
The second reason for this decline relates to the price of oil and how it supports much of the recycling world. Currently, oil is cheap, and companies often find it more affordable to buy virgin materials than to pay a higher rate for recycled material. At the current time, the recycling industry is not yet self-sustaining.
The third biggest challenge to recycling is simple: people just don’t do it. From the twenty-something collegian who finds it inconvenient to the thirty-something parent who finds time to be the ultimate asset, some people just aren’t committed to the cause.
Why isn’t recycling incentivized?
While many people cite time, money, and convenience, the lack of incentive also plays a role. Whatever the reason, companies and municipalities don’t always offer encouragement, and that fact puts our planet at risk. Recycling does not offer a payout, it does not have comprehensive governmental oversight, it is not mandatory, and it often feels more like work than anything else.
For some people, being green is low on the priority list, as they struggle with things like paying the rent, putting food on the table, and finding a job. The day-to-day challenges of life can begin to outweigh eco-conscious efforts. So, while this lack of motivation can come with serious environmental consequences, it is also understandable.
And of course, there are plenty of other reasons more waste isn’t making it to the blue bin. Some municipalities don’t want to pay extra for a recycling service. Some communities don’t engage in public information campaigns educating their citizens about the benefits of recycling. Other cities prioritize their efforts elsewhere.
The solution to these issues – which will hopefully bump up the amount of materials recycled beyond the current rate of 2 percent – revolves around improving the motivation to recycle.
What else can we do to increase recycling rates?
Truth be told, the need for recycling is higher than ever, as we are faced by challenges of limited space, diminishing ecosystems, polluted food chains, and dwindling resources. Despite what many people think, the Earth’s abundance will not last forever.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates about 75 percent of garbage is, in fact, reusable in some way. This means that there is a lot of room for improvement in our current processing methods. Whether people decide to accept that challenge is the main variable.
The other reasons people cite for avoiding recycling typically relate a lack of education on the subject. Many people find the process confusing. They are not sure where to put what, perhaps because many cities now have at least three different designated bins to dispose of different types of recyclable waste. Others believe their small efforts really don’t make much difference in the larger scheme of things, so they don’t feel the pressure.
According to the EPA, the average person generates about 4.7 pounds of trash each day. This adds up to 1,600 pounds per person per year! If viewed from this angle, the actions of one individual quickly take on a lot more impact. So, what’s the answer to all these questions?
Information. People need a reason to care about the planet, and whether that reason is developed through education or simpler guidelines is up to us. For some, increased reminders may be enough. For others, the state of the planet may need to become a lot grimmer before they take notice – or action.