It’s time to spring in to recycling LESS! (Here’s why)

It is that time of year again when nature bursts out blooms, bikes start rolling, we shut off our lights for Earth Hour and gear up to celebrate Earth Day April 22nd. Let’s just say, spring is in the air and with that, it’s time to talk environmental issues.

On the agenda? Recycling plastic.

Oh no! Not again!? Yes, again.

Here’s why; as per January 1, 2018, China stopped importing recyclable plastic from the USA.

Maybe you missed the news, and maybe you are wondering why that is worth blogging about. Well, before this year, China took the majority of our plastic waste (16 million tons in 2016), recycled it, and turned it into plastic goods made in China. Even though most of those plastic items I am sure were unnecessary, this procedure meant that at least some our discarded plastic jugs, lids, boxes and wrappers got used for something.

When you add the fact that so many container ships sail half-empty back to Asia because of the huge trade deficit, filling containers with plastic scrap made even more sense from an environmental standpoint.

So, why did China decide to stop accepting “free” raw material? You probably think that sounds like a bad idea, especially since they already have the facilities and manufacturing equipment to recycle huge amounts of plastic.

The reason why China is saying “no more” is they are cleaning up their act and marketing themselves that way. That term includes more than implementing carbon taxes and reducing air pollution by shutting down coal plants; it includes looking good and clean. They are tired of drowning in plastic and having messy factories full of bins of materials; sometimes contaminated and always needing sorting. They want to buy newly made raw materials; neat, streamlined, no need for warehouses full of “stuff”.

I’d like to argue that the clean “green” thing to do would be to keep accepting discarded plastic for recycling and to use less virgin plastic materials in their manufacturing of goods. They’re helping us ALL recycle! (That’s good marketing too.) The decision to stop imports is upsetting the market and undoing decades of progress in handling scraps. That said, it’s not exactly fair to put the recycling responsibility on one country alone either.

The west coast is now drowning in the plastic that China used to pick up. We don’t have the facilities to deal with it and let’s not forget, the biggest pushers for consuming virgin plastic are American chemical companies working against local recycling infrastructure (laughing all the way to the bank when they heard China’s big news).

It should also be noted that China is one of the top polluters when it comes to plastic in our oceans. Turns out, they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with plastic either. So what’s worse? Our “recycled yoghurt cup” being shipped to China, maybe falling into the river and flowing into the ocean or it being buried alive in an American landfill, spewing methane?

Can we all just agree as a society in whole we SUCK at taking responsibility for used plastic? (Yes.)

Now we are at the “So what can we do?” part of this blog post!

Whooop! My favorite part.

recycling plastic

1. We must STOP thinking that throwing plastic in the recycling bin is an eco-friendly thing to do. Our goal should always be to look down our recycling bin and see mostly carton, metal and glass (if accepted in your area or you might have to drive to a station to recycle) in a half-empty bin. We should leave as much packaging in the store as possible. Now, I love chips just as much as the next person, but I am not pretending that the bag will end up anywhere but landfill. I know that is where it’s going and I have to decide how much I want quinoa puffs today based on that fact. Let’s no longer pretend that an item that doesn’t get recycled, magically does (“wishcycling”). Knowing what really happens, helps us make better choices. Studies have shown that people who believe items are recycled, consume MORE. Read about plastic and its recyclability here.

2. We must purchase and support local makers who use recycled material. You can read more about recycling and get ideas for brands in this post. If you are buying Chinese, or other imported goods, look for recycled content! Our goal is to let the market know that we care about where the raw materials used in a product comes from.

3. Even though we live in a plastic polluted world, companies who use recycled plastic still have an issue getting enough of it for their production lines. Like I said, we don’t have the infrastructure in place. We can help by asking specific companies what they need and provide it directly to them. For example US based, eco-company Preserve accepts number 5 plastics (yogurt cups, hummus jars) back via their Gimme 5 program (bins available at certain Whole Foods). American Oka-B and Canadian Kamik footwear companies accept and recycle worn-out styles as well.

4. Write to your favorite politicians and inform active members in your community about this issue. Volunteer in a recycling and waste handling committee where you live if you have time :)

Those are my ideas for doing something about this issue! What are some of yours?

I am definitely not the “perfect plastic free citizen” but every action to reduce matters. Do you think about plastic when you go about your day? Have you made progress in reducing your plastic consumption this year so far? Let me know :)

12 thoughts on “It’s time to spring in to recycling LESS! (Here’s why)

  1. You’re a true inspiration @sustainableanna I have made changes and it’s all because of you! Honestly! I buy less. I think: do I NEED this or do I just want this. I have set an ambition to not buy ANY clothes for myself in 2018. I have soooo many. We will see how it goes.. but that mindset is actually liberating! I don’t even need to look in stores coz I’m not buying. I don’t buy new clothes for Alexander because most of Max’s stuff is still fine and he doesn’t NEED more clothes for sure. Plastic is a really guilty conscious of mine. I thought I was good coz I reeeeeealy struggled to get the recycling process up here in Waw. (I literate ran down the street to catch the garbage men and in Polish-Russian-English-ish asked to get them to come and pick up my recycled scrap). But I guess I have to rethink. (What’s happening with scrap plastic from Europe..? Any ideas.?)
    …and my worst conscious right now is a toy I bought for Max on Saturday. So not needed, way too expensive and he doesn’t even like it… 😔 ok, need to improve on that. 😘😘

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    1. Thank you Linda! I actually keep myself inspired too.. Sometimes I get lazy but then I write and research and get reminded of where I should be heading.
      It’s impossible to say by whom and where recyclables in Poland is taken care of. Maybe they have been shipped to China too… or might go to landfill or waste-to-heat plants? Know that there is potential that you are wishcycling. Use your produce bags and let the kids build and create craft projects with old shampoo bottles, lids, trays etc!
      UK and Ireland shipped over 90% to China in 2016… Sweden I think does a good job in country but has definitely been a huge part of the cult that “recycling is the eco-friendly thing to do and don’t worry about waste” which has been quite counterproductive. Love the “pant” system tho! That is true reusing.
      It is so nice to take shopping breaks! And then it feels like such a treat when you do buy something :) You do have a lot of clothes and I will be happy to take some.. ;)
      Kids need less too! Then they get inspired to play with what they find (in the recycle bin) and each other. It’s impossible to know what they will like anyway!
      xoxo

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  2. “We must STOP thinking that throwing plastic in the recycling bin is an eco-friendly thing to do.” This could have been the whole post and I would have cheered XD

    SUCH a hard mindset to get over!

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  3. I love the tie-in between this post and your other post about buying goods that use recycled material! I have this discussion with my dad all the time. I try to encourage him not to buy plastic, but he doesn’t see the issue because it’s technically recyclable. It’s so difficult to bridge that gap in terms of where people think their recycling goes! Recycling is also so inefficient! It keeps improving over time, but until it gets to be more efficient, we really need to lay off the plastic! Great post!!

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    1. Thank you!! Yes, my dad is similar. He doesn’t buy a lot of things but he recycles everything he buys. He put styrofoam in my bin (with some grease) and I said “Dad, you are wishcycling!” but he still did it again the day after!! He is Swedish and there they believe recycling is the best thing in the world… we’ll have to keep posting and talking for a while yet! :)

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        1. Guess what! I just learned that Sweden exports 30000 tons per year of plastic “recyclebles” to other countries. Where it ends up in oceans and nature but in someone else’s bad statistics. You should tell her that. Also burning trash for heat is NOT eco friendly. Swedes love to say they’re recycling masters but what good does that do when we/they over consume and think recycling is the solution. Sorry. Swedish rant! 😜

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          1. YES! My friend has also talked about burning trash! It’s hard because nobody wants to give up their comfort or convenience, but we need to make some compromises somewhere! And yes! I saw that you were Swedish-American! It’s so great reading your perspective on things! Can I ask what brought you to the states?

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            1. Of course. I applied for a job here (within the same company I was in in Copenhagen) and transferred over :) I’d been trying to get back to the States for a while at that point and it happened to be in Houston the job was. I spent a year in Chicago at 19 as an Au Pair and always wanted to come back to live “my own life” here (Au pairs don’t really get to do that…LOL) Now we have green cards and an American kiddo so might not stay in muggy Houston forever ;) I do think my environmentalism has been very important here tho. People in general don’t know about any of the issues here before I tell them. YAY. Go awareness right? I have to celebrate awareness coz I don’t see much change here yet. xo

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            2. I almost did the Au Pair thing in New Zealand! That’s so cool! I ended up WWOOFing instead, which was still fun. Definitely hear you on the not having your own life thing! It’s the same here in Maryland. We’re right by the Chesapeake Bay and so many people have no clue that their actions negatively affect it! Awareness is the best thing we can do in my opinion. That’s why it makes me so happy to see so many green blogs out there! One step at a time!!!

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