Before you recycle your plastic bottles and pizza boxes from your Friday night party or Netflix and chill date night, hold on a second. Have you ever stopped to wonder how much of the material you put out for recycling actually get recycled? Newsflash: A very small percentage! Some of it is due to a phenomenon called wishcycling, where consumers dump non-recyclables in the recycling bin contaminating the whole batch. Some recycling trucks refuse to pick up recycling bins if they notice items that don't belong there. The contents of that bin then end up turning into trash that gets dumped in landfills. Another way to contaminate the recycling materials is by leaving food waste products in recyclables. For example, a glass container with food grease, mold, or leftover food does not get recycled. Upwards of 25 per cent of the waste put in recycling bins is also rendered non-recyclable by contamination — either by food waste or other materials. We are now in what we call a recycling crisis, and are shifting towards waste reduction over recycling, as a solution to the problem.
Ninety percent of plastic is not recycled in Canada, according to this weather network article. Countries are no longer buying recyclables or secretly burning them. As reported by CBC, as of January 1, 2018, China no longer imports much of the plastic and paper we have been shipping there for decades. Moreover, a recent dispute between Canada and the Philippines resulted in 69 shipping containers of garbage labelled as recyclable material in Canada, being brought back to Canada, this time labeled as toxic waste. This ordeal lasted six years, and Canada finally had to foot a 1.2 million dollar bill to return the mislabelled containers of plastic, contaminated by household garbage such as dirty diapers. A third of this waste was disposed of in the Philippines, and the rest was sent back to Canada to be incinerated after it was fumigated in the Philippines. As a result, our recyclables are ending up in landfills contributing to the recycling crisis. Because more and more countries are refusing to buy our recyclable materials, those recyclables have no where to go and end up in landfills. Moreover, a lot of the plastic we produce is dumped in the ocean and is damaging wildlife because there is nowhere else to put it. A reported study by National Geographic, conducted by the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, says that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced globally, 6.3 billion metric tons of it has become plastic waste, leaving only nine percent of it to be recycled. The rest of it is accumulating in landfills and eventually in our oceans, killing precious wildlife, polluting beautiful beaches, and threatening our food chain. The plastic that does end up getting recycled, is in fact up-cycled as melting and reusing plastic is complicated because no plastic is pure, and most likely has other compounds in it as contaminants. As a result, plastic sent out for recycling, gets turned into fibers to make clothing or other products. Plastic is not biodegradable, and takes hundreds if not thousands of years to break down. When it does break down, it does not break down at the molecular level, and micro-plastic particles than end up being mistaken for food by planktons, thus killing planktons, fish, and the birds that consume them. As a result, it is important to avoid plastic all together, as much as you can.
It's easy to get overwhelmed and think that your recycling efforts are useless because not everything you put in your bins actually gets recycled. Given that Canadians produce close to a ton of waste per capita every year, it's worth reducing your waste footprint. But don't despair. Every municipality has its own set of rules when it comes to recycling and it's important to educate yourself on what is and isn't recyclable, and how to properly dispose of your recyclable to make sure they don't unnecessarily end up in the trash. In some municipalities, pizza boxes are not recyclable because they came into contact with what is considered food waste, and are therefore contaminated goods. In other municipalities, such as Ottawa, pizza boxes go in the green bin for composting!
So as a planet loving person what can you do about the current recycling crisis? Find out what items are recyclable outside of recycling bin initiatives and resist the urge to toss those items in the trash because it’s easier. Educate yourself on what is recyclable and what isn't. According to this HGTV article, things like grocery plastic bags, paper coffee cups and shredded paper are not recyclable. Things like electronics, if disposed of in garbage, pollute our landfills. Research businesses and places that recycle or repurpose electronic goods and donate your electronics to them. Choose the planet over convenience and opt for sustainable options as a consumer. Choose compostable biodegradable materials or opt for long term use items over single use items. Opt out of things like plastic straws and take out containers. Have a cook out instead of ordering in. Use rags instead of paper towels. Ditch disposable paper floor cleaners, for a mop. Trade plastic grocery bags for reusable ones.
Support businesses that offer sustainable products and vote with your dollars to stop supporting companies that create so much waste. Little by little, we will make a difference.
With Love and Compassion,
1st Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash
2nd Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash
3rd Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash
4th Photo by Lin Jonsson on Unsplash