What Really Gets Recycled?
The Truth About Recycled Plastics
I remember when I found out the truth about recycling. I was reading Zero Waste Home by Bae Johnson when I read that around only 9% of plastics actually get recycled. And that's globally, not just here at home in the states!!
This number seemed staggering. Weren't their symbols on the bottom of literally every piece of plastic letting you know that it was indeed recyclable? Were there not countless numbers of businesses using recycled plastics in their products? If I was sending all this plastic to recycling, what actually was happening to it if only 9% was getting recycled and used again?
We have a recycling problem and no one is talking about it.
Let's talk about those little recycling symbols on the bottom of every piece of plastic. Those are not there to give you the warm and fuzzies of having you think that they will be recycled into new materials. They are simply there to categorize what type of plastic the item is made out of. Some are more easily recyclable than others.
There are 7 different types of plastic recycling symbols and less than half of them are easily recycled through most curbside recycling,
Recycling Symbols Explained
So What Can We, As Consumers, Do?
Since most plastics are trash form the beginning the easiest and most simple thing would be to just limit the amount of plastic you bring into your home. Look for alternatives like buying fruit that doesn't come in a plastic container. Find a local refill shop to fill up on house hold cleaners and personal care items. Opt to bring your own bag when shopping. These swaps are easy enough to make, it just takes a commitment to really want to reduce the amount of trash you send to the landfill.
Thumbs up to the 9% of plastics that DO get recycled and turned into something new. Thumbs down to when that plastic has run its course and is now trash.
There are different materials that are recyclable. They are metals, glass and plastics. The first two are infinitely recyclable. When items made out of these materials are sent to the recycling facility they are almost always repurposed into mew material. That's because the make up of metal and glass, when broken down, revert to their original molecular state making them able to be remade into a quality product over and over again.
Not so much when it comes to plastics. Each time plastic is broken down and remade into a new item it's made into a lesser plastic until eventually that plastic is no longer recyclable and it's just ends up as trash.
While we applaud companies who are finding new purposes to use recycled plastics, we also have to think about the end life of each product. And when recycled plastics are used in the making of clothing, be wary each time you wash that garment due to Microplastics being washed out into your local water supply system with every wash!
What's The Fix
As consumers, we have a right to know exactly where our products come from, how they were made and how to properly dispose of them. Not always the case though. The honest fix, while it seems intimidating at first, is to shop from brands you can trust. Ask companies the hard questions and suggest to them to do better, for you and the environment.
Taking action into your own hands is empowering. Purchase items made from natural materials like organic cotton, hemp or bamboo. Use items that aren't single use and instead opt for reusables like metal straws and glass water bottles. Refill when you can and shop packaging free in the produce isle and as much as you can in the rest of the grocery.
It will take a little bit for you to find the best routine and places that help you live a life of less plastics but in the end, you'll be much better off for all your hard work.