Does Recycling Actually Make a Difference? - Recycling

Does Recycling Actually Make a Difference? - Recycling
From The Kitchn - October 23, 2017

Everyone knows that person who refuses to recycle because they say it does not actually do anything. Maybe you even are that person. Does recycling actually make a difference to our environment?

We talked to top experts in the recycling space to find out what we can really know about the impact recycling has on our planet.

The Good News About Recycling

Perhaps you have heardor madethe argument that putting more trucks on the road to collect recycled materials, and building the machines necessary to process recyclables so they can be reused, seems like it ca not be good for the environment.

That is a valid question, says Bob Gedert, president of the National Recycling Coalition. "There are many studies out there that have done a life cycle analysis of of recycling," he says, noting that sustainable materials managementor recycling and reusing materials in the most efficient way possibleis a growing field of study in the sustainability world. "These life cycle analyses, material by material, have shown that recycling outpaces landfilling as an environmental practice. Even though you are putting a truck out there to collect it, even though you are putting mechanics out there to process it, you are entirely offsetting that extra activity because you are saving energy by replacing raw materials over and over again."

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So the short answer is that yes, recycling does help the Earth. But that, unfortunately, does not tell the whole story.

The Bad News About Recycling

In full transparency, we will also admit that there is some bad news, much of which revolves around the fact that a lot of the materials we think are being recycled actually are not, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council.

There are multiple reasons this might happen. Say, for example, that a glass container is thrown into the recycling bin but it breaks on the way to its first stop, a materials recovery facility. Then it can no longer be recycled and will be thrown away during the sorting process, says Sanborn. Similarly, if a pizza box comes in with too much food contamination, it ends up in a landfill.

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But even when a product is not contaminated and is sortedand perhaps even processed into a material that could potentially be reusedthere are not always companies interested in buying these recycled materials. This is a problem for low-quality plastics in particular.

"Plastic leaches into food and stuff, where glass does not," says Sanborn. That results in a lot of companies not wanting to buy recycled plastic.

And while the U.S. used to send a lot of its recycled plastic pellets and flakes to China, for example, China has actually stopped accepting much of it in a "current quality enforcement campaign known as National Sword," according to Plastics Recycling Update.

So, What Do We Do?


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