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Today is America Recycles Day, but Recycling Still Isn’t Perfect.
Opinion

Today is America Recycles Day, but Recycling Still Isn’t Perfect.

Instead, we should be focusing on reducing our consumption of single-use plastics.

This past Tuesday evening, I taught a Sustainable Household Practices course at Morris Arboretum. After distributing recycling guides to participants, I received a steady stream of questions.

“Can you recycle bottle caps?”

“What about those juice or milk containers (aka tetra paks)?”

“What about foil?”

As consumers, we’ve been plagued with endless options of things to purchase. After we finish with our peanut butter jars and plastic-lined jars, we’re left with waste. And when we discover our beloved-pizza boxes can’t be recycled, we feel bad throwing it in the trashcan.

And for conscious consumers, we’ve all been plagued with guilt.

I have a secret to share: It’s not (totally) your fault. After all, we’ve been programmed to think that we can consume without consequence. As Kenneth Worthy, author of “Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide Between People and the Environment” said,

“When consumers see the recycling symbol, they may think that the product is without environmental costs … or that purchasing is actually an environmentally positive act. So the recycling symbol on the bottle or just the idea that we can recycle stuff when we’re done with it may actually lead us to buy more stuff than we need in the first place.

America Recycles Day is November 15th.

Today is America Recycles Day, which is Keep America Beautiful initiative to “promote recycling and improve recycling habits across the country.”

In Philadelphia, that means “buzzing with activities to celebrate our commitment to recycling, including a bin and lid giveaway (while supplies last) and recycling games and prizes” at the Municipal Services Building (MSB) from 11 AM – 1 PM.

But America Recycles Day is brought to you by corporate entities (including Dow, H&M, and McDonald’s and the world’s biggest plastic polluter, Coca Cola) who have shifted the responsibility of responsibly handling waste from companies to consumers. We covered the background behind America Recycles Day in depth in 2013, and the article is still very relevant today.

Since 2013, we’ve discovered a lot about how our recycling system isn’t perfect. Philadelphia burned half of its recycling earlier this year – and stopped burning half of its recycling in May and contracted all of it to be handled by Waste Management.

Many people were upset about the city burning our recycling. However, this discovery was a symptom of a larger recycling problem: We create entirely too much waste to begin with. Companies have created the illusion that we can recycle whatever we create, which is not the case. Plastics have been sold to us as a convenient option – although it’s not convenient considering that plastic is forever, clogging everywhere from the depths of our oceans to the remote top of mountains.

And it won’t stop. Oil and gas companies are investing in plastics and chemicals as the demand for fossil fuel decreases. And the same fossil fuel giants who convinced the media that climate change was debatable after knowing climate change would increase global temperatures two or three degrees in the 1970s will continue to flood the market with plastics.

This is all as the Navy Yard is promoting 21.5 miles of plastic pollution disguised as art, as skillfully noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Don’t Give Up (totally) on Recycling!

Recycling is still an important piece of reclaimed materials for reuse. Single-stream recycling does alleviate materials going into our landfill.

However, we need to reduce what we consume in the first place. Here are five things we need to focus on.

  1. Reduce your plastic use and single-use products. You can buy in bulk and shop zero waste, switch to reusable products and find fun ways to do this.
  2. Reuse what you can and donate thoughtfully.
  3. Shop Local. You’ll avoid a lot of packaging (and shipping footprints) by shopping at Farmers Markets and local businesses.
  4. Compost your food scraps. You’ll not only feed the soil with nutrients but composting will cut recycling contamination and a huge portion of your trash.
  5. “Recycle” what’s left.

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Julie Hancher
Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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