Are You Recycling Properly?

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Recycling, Said to be one of the major ways we are “dealing” with our major carbon footprint as humans. However you would be surprised to see how many strings are attached to this environment saving practice. Of all the waste produced in 2017, only 8.4% of it eventually got recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Though we threw away 35.4 million tons of trash that year in America alone and of that percentage 25% of it was discarded due to the plastic being “contaminated”. Contamination of recyclable products has been on the rise lately resulting in more plastic being sent to the landfill which can ultimately end up in the ground, our water, even our foods. So how do we insure the most amount of our trash is recycled. First, we can recycle our plastic waste properly by learning what it means to contaminate plastic, paper, and what belongs in compost.

The danger with plastics, is that they last for a very long time and they are made of materials that can be toxic when broken down. It takes about 1000 years for plastic waste to start breaking down in landfills. And in that time they can release toxic chemicals in the soil such as phthalates and Bisphenol A. These chemicals can eventually end up in our groundwater and end up in major bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and even the ocean. However most plastics don't even get time to decompose in our landfills and can find themselves directly in our oceans. Another big danger is microplastics, plastics particles that are 5mm or smaller. These little pieces of plastic can be found everywhere even in some plants like our corn, to fish like salmon or tuna. These plastics are so versatile, there are even some in the human body. This can directly affect our chances of cancer, bone development, even our immune system.

But there are ways to combat the amount of plastic which ends up in our environment. Though one of the major ways we clean up has a horrible loss rate. This is due to the contamination of plastic, paper, and other recyclable materials. On an urban level, A single piece of paper tossed in the plastics bin can contaminate the whole bin of plastic. This is because of the way they treat the different products. The majority of recyclables are only sorted a certain number of times and by putting the paper in the plastic bin it would go through the wrong process which can ultimately mess up the whole batch. The department of waste management suggests that you have papers placed in a definable bag so they can be sorted out once they get to the recycling plant. Same with paper or cardboard with oil patches on it. While refining the paper, the oil will separate out and leave big spots on the final product leading recycling plants to discard a section of the paper. In this case it would be better to include these items in the compost bin if they are not glossy. So, organization is the name of the game when it comes to recycling. Each recyclable material goes through a certain process which wildly depends on the material. So make sure to separate different recyclables to ensure the most amount of the will stay recyclable.

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