Recycling is Complicated

This is more of an economic issue than it is about water usage, but that does play a big part in it.  I rinse out my recyclables because I don’t want them to attract bugs or smell while they are in my garage waiting for the recycle pickup day, and also the fact that my recycling company asks me to rinse the containers.  If I can make a small difference in helping out the planet, I am more than willing to do it.  Recycling seems easy enough, but sometimes containers get really messy and then I will throw them away as garbage, because I feel it isn’t worth my effort.  I read that anywhere between 15% to 33% of what gets put in the recycling bin doesn’t belong there at all and therefore it ends up in the trash, and this makes people feel like nothing that they do to try and help actually matters.

Recycling trucks will pick up whatever you put in the bin, but like everything else in the United States, this industry is driven by profit incentives, so if they can’t make any cash on what they collect, it will end up in a landfill.  Sorting through everything is a process, but if we can keep more materials out of landfills, that will have a positive effect on the environment.  My city uses “single stream” recycling, where all the recyclable materials are placed in the same bin, which makes it convenient for me.  This method makes recycling less complicated for their residents, and thus more household tend to participate in recycling because of this.  Some people are not sure if they should throw the bottle top in the bin with the bottle, or if pizza boxes recyclable or not, so this convenience comes with a price.

Plastic is a modern convenience that we have become addicted to.  The popularity of plastics skyrocketed in the 1970s after The Graduate when Walter Brooke as Mr. McGuire said one word to Benjamin.

Plastics began replacing paper because it was more durable and glass because it was lighter and plastics are not a bad thing, but a lot of it gets thrown away and we need to find a way to reduce plastic waste.  Plastics can be broken down into broad types or categories, but there are hundreds of types of plastic, and they’re not all created equal.  Each type is designed carefully to possess specific qualities and meet the demands of a specific product.  Plastics makers tend to group plastics into two general classes, being either thermoplastics or thermosets.  There are numerous plastic-based products that cannot break down and cannot be recycled and this is why seven standard classifications were developed for plastics.  Plastics are often marked with a little triangle that has a number in it, and some people call this the “chasing arrows” symbol and this identifies the type of plastic resin used in the product.  It does not mean that is made from recycled plastic, or that it will get recycled.  This symbol is supposed to make recycling less confusing, but I studied plastics in college when I took a course on the structure of materials, and I am often confused by it.

Water conservation is important, and recyclables don’t have to be dishwasher clean, as a quick rinse should be fine.  All you have to do is empty them out, get rid of any sticky stuff that clings to the side of the container with a rinse, shake off the water and you can toss it in the bin.  You have to remove the bulk of food residue, but there’s no need to make it clean enough to eat off of.  A more earth friendly of doing this, could be by re-using dish water.  Place your containers by the sink and after you are finished washing your dishes, them clean your recyclables off with that water.  It’s up to all of us to change how America recycles, because we’re all in this together.

Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #169 which asks, “Most recycling programs instruct us to thoroughly wash and dry the items (other than paper or cardboard) before putting them in the recycling bin.  If you lived in an area that is suffering from a severe drought (as I do), would you choose to waste the water necessary to comply with those instructions, would you ignore them and throw unwashed items in the recycling bin, or would you put recyclable but unwashed items in the trash (landfill) bin?

15 thoughts on “Recycling is Complicated

  1. The rules around what goes in the recycling, compost, and trash bins in San Francisco are different from the rules where I live now 35 miles across the Bay to the east. And they’re different still where my son lives 15 miles north of here. That adds to the confusion.

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  2. It’s interesting to see these different perspectives depending on which state (or country) a person lives in. Here recycling is currently trendy, so of course there’s loads of support, but I don’t really produce enough recycling waste to take my bin out every two weeks, I’ll wait and fill it up. Energy is a commodity I’m in short supply of too, and it all depends on if I’ve got the energy to wheel both bins (garbage and recycling) to the curb. I know it sounds trivial too and perhaps a bit lazy of me. But I’ve been doing recycling a long, long time as well and think I was doing my part long before the rest of Utah caught up with me.

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    1. As long as you feel like you are doing your part Melanie, that is the important thing. I don’t know what it is like in Utah, except from reading your posts, but I started recycling in the 80s and I fill up my bin every week. It takes effort, but any small effort can be of some help. In some places, they are mixing hard-to-recycle plastics into pavement and making very durable roads by doing that and I wonder why that hasn’t caught on here.

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