Just Stop Recycling

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Recycling may be less effective than it seems on its face, argues Katherine Jimenez. Illustration by Dionel de Borja/The Daily Campus

Recycling doesn’t work. Each year we produce an average of 300 million metric tons of plastic waste, most of it ending up in landfills or the natural environment. So stop throwing those plastic bottles into “recycling” bins; they’ll just end up in the same landfill as everybody else’s. 

Most plastics come with a coded recycling symbol that can tell you the uses of that item, but sorting out the different kinds of materials that get thrown out each day takes time and money. When the Chinese market for plastic disappeared in 2018, thanks to an estimated 1.3 to 1.5 million metric tons of discarded foreign plastic pollution, the U.S. had no economical or efficient way to handle recycling. Without a federal recycling program, waste just keeps piling up in community landfills that cannot reuse food-contaminated products. Regulations such as the recycling symbol are also of no help when consumers don’t understand what the numbers on different kinds of plastics mean. Even when China was taking in the West’s piles of plastic waste, they could not find much use of it which led to the burning of useless materials, further damaging the environment. 

“Without a federal recycling program, waste just keeps piling up in community landfills that cannot reuse food-contaminated products.”

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and Colgate-Palmolive are just a few of many big business companies that flood the planet with throwaway plastic waste every year. Their products, when not found in grocery stores, can be found on beaches and in oceans, disturbing native animal populations. Cleaning these corporations’ messes is not easy, especially not in a system where consumers have been conditioned to do what is most convenient. These companies promote the idea of recycling because they know they will be able to keep profiting as long as people buy into their lies. Their propaganda has spread the myth that recycling is good, that it helps, when it has made very little difference since the late 20th century. 

Recycling is not going to save the world, but reducing and reusing the products that cause mass pollution might. That’s not to say that you should bring in a mason jar to Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks for your coffee but does drinking something like bottled water really make sense? Instead of throwing away hundreds of plastic bottles that you will never see again, why not just buy one reusable one? The little things that led to plastic pollution worldwide can also be the little things that can help solve it. Don’t let these corporations lie to you about how that plastic water bottle under your bed can help build a whole playground. It simply isn’t true, and even if it was it would not be possible at a national level. Plastic waste that ends up in the ocean gets eaten by fish who mistake it for food. That same fish then gets eaten by you which, surprise, surprise, means that you just digested contaminated plastic. 

“Recycling is not going to save the world, but reducing and reusing the products that cause mass pollution might.”

Recycling bills are expected to return to the Senate under the Biden Administration, but more emphasis is being put on climate change over the United States’ other environmental challenges. Even still, building towards a more sustainable future will take some time. If consumers actually want to help the planet then businesses need to stop producing single-use plastics altogether.  

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