Recycling: does it actually help the environment?

By: Jenni Moore

Picture this: you’ve just finished a refreshing can of soda on a hot summer day. But wait, what should you do with the can? I bet you can remember your parents telling you to “Recycle it! It’s good for the planet!” Here’s the thing though, how good is it really?

Recycling has been hyped up as the solution to all our waste problems. At a young age, children are taught to recycle plastics, paper, and “go green.” However, certain types of plastics, or paper that becomes too wet or damp, cannot be recycled at all. Also, plastic bags can become wrapped around gears on the machines used to recycle, resulting in a shut down of the plant for costly repairs.

Despite that, how much does actually get recycled? It is easy to just throw something in the recycling, but how do you know if it can actually be recycled? Often times, people throw trash in the recycling. Even though the waste is separated in the recycling plant to what can and cannot be recycled, this process is tedious and inefficient.

In Chicago recycling plants for example, employees will have to eventually throw out tons of trash because it can’t be recycled. Greg Maxwell, senior vice president at Resource Management in Chicago, said the amount of things sent to landfills from recycling plants could be as high 30 percent or 16,822 tons.
Another issue with recycling is that it is not always faithfully practiced in cities and industries. Think about it like this, if one small community in a much larger city continues to recycle and try to help the earth, what difference does it make if only a small portion of the city does it?

Now, I know you must be thinking “Who cares if it’s not a huge contribution? I’m still making a small difference.” Turns out, the bad outweighs the good when it comes to recycling.

The vehicles used to pick up your recycled waste are essentially creating a large amount of air pollution. The thing is, garbage trucks and recycling trucks are the exact same thing. They both run on fossil fuels that produce immense amounts of exhaust.

Now back to our city analogy, what if the entire city started to recycle? Obviously, the government would have to employ more recycling trucks to collect the recycled waste, right? Well, more trucks equals more emissions. Not only are the trucks creating large amounts of pollution, so are the plants where the recycling takes place!

For example, a recycling plant in Washington state produces more toxic emissions than the factories in that area. These emissions contribute to Global Warming and Air Pollution. The irony here is that, while recycling is supposed to be good for the planet, the process is contributing to the pollution problem.

Recycling has become an excuse for us to continue producing excess amounts of garbage. It gives us the illusion that we’re doing something good for the planet when we do recycle, but in reality, nothing has changed. The solution? Simply produce less waste. Why recycle a plastic bottle when you can use a refillable metal one? By producing less waste, you are effectively helping the planet.

Less waste overall has multiple benefits. First, you’re reducing the amount of trash that could end up in landfills. Second, there is less of a need for a large amount of garbage/recycling trucks to pick up your trash. Finally, you can easily live a cleaner life.

The solution to this problem is really very simple: reduce, reuse, but don’t recycle.

Sources:
http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-recycling.php

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amywestervelt/2012/04/25/can-recycling-be-bad-for-the-environment/#46b792172b37

https://www.wbez.org/shows/curious-city/what-really-happens-to-chicagos-blue-cart-recycling/42d45307-001f-48ee-a649-9a63c7cceba2

Image from: http://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/Recycling%20bluff_164941

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