Our current recycling system stinks. Waste is a by-product of poor design in our throwaway society and exacerbated by a much-needed overhaul of our current recycling infrastructure. 

The environmental movement of the 1970s included the first Earth Day, the creation of the EPA and the first post-World War II mass recycling program of metal cans in Honolulu, Hawaii. It wasn’t until the 1980s, that communities across the country began local municipal curbside pickup of paper, glass, metal and plastic waste. 

Most of us believe that when we throw away our recyclables in a recycling bin that the product will be recycled and reused. Well, kind of. The truth is, there has to be an existing after-marked demand for a material in order for recycled goods to be sent to the proper Material Recovery Facility. Recycling is a business, plain and simple. 

For more than thirty years, the United States exported the majority of plastic and paper trash to China, which recycled the trash creating feedstock for the products it was manufacturing and exporting back. In 2016, it was estimated that the U.S. exported 700,000 tons a year to China alone. Overall, 70 percent of the western world’s plastic waste went to China. But in January 2018, China stopped serving as the world’s trash compactor, begetting a golden opportunity for innovation and solutions to our ever-growing throwaway culture. 

To break down the recycling statistics, an average of approximately 258 million tons of trash was generated by the United States in 2014:

  • 34.6% was recycled
  • 12.8% was combusted for energy recovery
  • 52.6% was landfilled

Flashforward to today (and now without China’s recycling system), U.S. waste management companies are increasingly using landfills and incineration to help dispose of the 4.4 pounds of trash that the average American tosses every single day.

SUMMARY

  • America’s recycling infrastructure has not kept pace with today’s waste stream.
  • Our recycling industry needs vast amounts of improvement, specifically increasing communication between manufacturers of materials, products and packaging with the recycling industry.
  • Adoption of Cradle to Cradle Design framework by businesses will lead to better end-of-life management and the ultimate goal of not sending waste to landfills. 

WHY RECYCLE?

  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators → Incineration of trash causes air pollution and leaves behind a toxic ash that ironically also needs to be landfilled. 
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals.
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials through mining, drilling and logging.

ACTION STEPS

Improve your recycling hygiene:

  1. Check out your local city municipal recycling program to learn what your city recycles and doesn’t
  2. Educate yourself on the type of plastic you are buying, read more here.
  3. Contact your favorite brand who is still using plastic and tell them to embrace the circular economy.

Take the steps to still live your life, but with less plastic waste by downloading NOUR ZERO’s Zero Waste Guide.