Recycling is defined as the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects.
But you probably already knew that.
Recycling has become something that is a mainstream topic of conversation.
In the United States, the EPA uses the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle“.
And I think that we can all agree on the importance of recycling.
According to this article by recyclenation.com, the EPA estimates that about 75% of the U.S. waste stream is recyclable, but only about 30% of the waste stream is actually recycled.
You might be questioning why this is the case.
I will share the embarrassing truth about this recycler’s journey and why I have not been a very good recycler.
When I started my #thisis40 challenges back on my 40th birthday in September, I chose one that would be easy for me. 30 days of no one-time plastic bag usage.
I hadn’t been using plastic bags for many years and knew there would only be a few moments of needing to say “I don’t need a bag”.
I also had stumbled across facts about the consumption of plastic straws (the U.S. alone goes through 500 million straws per day) and began to work on limiting my usage. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, it should come as no surprise that I devour knowledge. One of my past career dreams was to be a research scientist. Instead, I read articles and try to sift out reality from bias. My love for facts is why I try to find credible sources before sharing with you.
So where had I become lazy?
Well, when I moved to Virginia from Florida in 2013, curbside recycling was not part of the county’s trash collection. I had been spoiled with having owned homes with curbside recycling for the prior 14+ years. After the move, I found the local recycling drop-offs and was pretty good in the beginning. Those drop-offs didn’t take glass, but I figured I was still doing pretty good. However, most times that I would load up my car and drive to these drop-offs, the bins were so full that people had left their recycling on the nearby ground (I’m not even sure that gets recycled as the drop-offs are giant trailers that get hitched to a truck). So I’d end up just taking it back home and collecting more. Then I noticed that I slowly began to just throw it away.
It bothered me that I was choosing to do this because I felt like I was living completely outside of my personal principles. You know that whole brain-gut connection? Well, my gut was making me feel guilty.
I knew that I could hire a private company to pick up my curbside recycling. I just didn’t. Why? It came down to needing a paradigm shift.
I remember the first time that I ever heard the term paradigm shift. I was 16 and was a senior in high school. It was in a class called advanced reading (which we got college credit for… under “introduction to college” and “speech”). We did pretty much that… read books and analyzed them, gave speeches, and practiced college interviewing (I’m sure there’s more, but the introvert in me remembers speaking in front of the class).
A paradigm shift is an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. His simplistic example was when you are vacuuming and you go over and over the same spot, hoping that it will pick up the paper on the floor when if you just changed your thinking, you could bend over and pick up that piece of paper and move on with the rest of the vacuuming.
My resistance to curbside recycling in Roanoke County was because I had to pay a separate company to do something that for years had been handled by the county in which I lived. However, in Florida, I was still paying for curbside recycling. It just was part of my property tax bill. While I’m not going to delve into the ridiculous taxes that they collect in Virginia compared to when I lived in Florida, most people are familiar with the fact that Florida’s property taxes are not low. So ignoring the other taxes I pay and just focusing on the property taxes, I was able to justify (not everyone has this issue of needing to justify their spending. Yay you!! You are so lucky! However, I work with the personality I was given) hiring a curbside recycling company.
And that’s just what I did! I hired a company at the beginning of this year. Already, there is noticeably less trash going out on collection day. He also takes glass (so those wine bottles aren’t ending up in the landfill!).
Part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to share this blog is because even though I’ve made changes, there are still many areas of recycling or reducing or reusing in which I fail. My existence is still spoiled and I often make choices that go against my environmental desires. I would not want anyone to think that I have managed to completely change in all the areas that are possible in creating a smaller footprint.
I still consume…a lot.
However, as I learn more and more, I find it hard to ignore the facts.
According to the article that I shared, recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to power a TV for up to three hours. The EPA shares that recycling 10 plastic bottles saves enough energy to power a laptop for 25 hours.
This article from National Geographic states that 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. Much of that plastic ends up finding its way into the ocean. Research published in 2015 estimates that amount of plastic at 8 million metric tons EVERY year. This is the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline around the globe.
Many of us have heard about the garbage patches in the ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that the term “garbage patch” doesn’t paint an accurate term about the marine debris problem because there is more dispersion throughout the ocean than just in the “patches”.
I do think that much more information is readily available than in the past. However, I still stumble across information that I didn’t know. Such as the fact about plastic straws, but also recently learning about the existence of plastic microbeads. According to this article on the UN Environment website, as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles (500 times more than the stars in our galaxy) litter our seas. Some estimates state that by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
I think that far too often it’s easy to think that “what kind of difference will I make? I am only one person.” But going back to recyclenation.com, it’s estimated that the average individual creates four pounds of trash per day, which adds up to 1,500 pounds of trash per year.
Obviously, 1 person can make a difference.
As I continue to gain knowledge about environmental problems, I have a responsibility for accountability. It can no longer be thought that my actions and choices don’t make a difference when the facts point otherwise.
I will continue to fail and to make poor choices, but I will also continue to make even more good choices and gain victories.
If you’ve learned some facts, I hope that you’ll progress on the journey as well.
If you have any tips or knowledge that you’d like to contribute to the commentary, please do.
Let your light shine!
19 thoughts on “A Recycler’s Journey”
Wow – excellent post! Thanks, Amy. Serendipity, actually, as I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around the fact that this city where I recently moved doesn’t have recycling. It was so easy for me to separate my cardboard, mixed paper, and glass and cans where I lived before, and drive it to the recycle station and toss it in to the clearly marked semi trailers on site – for free. Here (apartment complex) everything’s thrown into the trash bins and the weekly truck empties them and drives to a large facility near the airport where it’s burned, evidently, as it used to be in Seattle thirty years ago. I’m still researching this, as I see many recycle places on the map I haven’t explored yet (many are metal recycling). One I went to actually paid ME $2.40 for my moving boxes and packing paper! I’d never heard of that before. I’m sure it costs a lot to provide the kinds of collection trucks necessary for curbside pickup, and space for bins for apartment dwellers to separate things out…but my experience is most people don’t bother, which defeats the purpose. Some countries will buy the smashed & bundled recyclables – but not if there’s food garbage in it. My only consolation at the moment is it’s being burned here, not buried. Still…I feel badly.
Thanks Pierr! When you’ve been used to recycling, it definitely feels strange when you move somewhere that it’s not a common (or easy). When I lived in Florida (and the company that I’ve hired here), separating recyclables isn’t required. I think that probably does help with those who may not have participated if it took “extra effort”.
My other half has been working at reducing our plastics use at home. England is pretty hot on recycling – we have five bins on our driveway – one for garden waste, one for food waste, one for plastics and metal, one for paper, and one for anything else. We don’t think twice about sorting the rubbish when we put it out – we are actively trying not to use as much plastic now though.
We don’t have garden or food waste recycling, but I am actively researching composting. Our recyclables don’t have to be sorted, but they are a separate bin than trash pick up (at least it was in Florida and I have a separate can for this recycling company).
I did see that the UK just banned plastic microbeads and that the US did in 2015. However, I haven’t done enough research surrounding the facts to talk on the topic in the post.
You are doing great! And, you are doing more than most in your community, I bet!
Thank you!! I think every little bit helps! 🙂
I’ve really got to cut back further on my straw consumption. My reuse rate could definitely be improved.
We were stunned to find that recycling is a ‘choice’ here in Indy. It used to be part of trash collection, period, then we moved to Ft Stewart and it was mandatory, and when we got home, it had become a ‘choice’ — and it costs more. Not much, but people opt out of it because they can. :/ My in-laws. :/
There are plenty of drop-off places and I see people using them, so I guess that’s good.
When we HAVE to get plastic bags, you can bet they’re reused, but mostly, we do our cloth and heavy reusable plastic bags.
I am waiting for the day we take our bottles back to refill and instead of buying more bottles, we dispense. Imagine what THAT would save!
I’m not sure that it was mandatory in any of the counties that I lived in during my time in Florida, but you were paying for it no matter what.
I still have plenty of places where I know that I could cut down on plastic usage and still haven’t started the endeavor.
I wonder if there are places that do refilling. Our local farmer’s market has a kombucha seller who will refill your glass. We also have a local dairy that sells milk in glass (it’s at the grocery store, but they also have delivery). You get back your deposit when you return the empty glass (I have not purchased this though).
We do Oberweiss’s return bottles, but I mean stores filled with dispensers instead of containers.
Paying for it no matter what is the right way.
I did see that the girl behind “Trash is for Tossers” opened a store in NYC called “Package Free”. I don’t know what all it carries, but it would be nice to see something like that spread.
Also, I loved those plastic recycled bags you shared. The little change purse dealies. More of that, too.
Yes! That was actually the one that I purchased. They were all so cute though.
We have curbside recycling and rent a BIG cart from the city to put all our recyclables in. My worry is it all still ends up in a landfill and most isn’t really recycled at all. 🙁
We discovered at our new house in NV they don’t separate their recyclables. Quelle Horreur!
I like to purchase my milk in glass bottles. There’s a fee, but it’s refundable if you return the bottle. I always forget to take them back straight-away so end up returning 3 at a time or so. The milk is from a local dairy. I love their products especially their yogurt.
The older I get the less I’m purchasing so, there’s that. 🙂
I’m concerned since I just read an article that China was buying many of our recyclables and stopped as of January 1st.
We didn’t separate our recyclables in Florida and don’t do it here either.
We do have a local dairy and can get the milk in glass bottles. I should do that. I don’t drink milk so I don’t think about it.
I’m steadily becoming more conscious of what I bring into our home. 💕
I had stopped buying large quantities of Milk when both my children moved out. I only bought a quart of milk which I was unable to buy in a bottle, but Baby Girl and Casanova broke up and she and #1 Grandson were here so I was buying milk every week so went to Bottles and a local dairy for it. They also have the best yogurt for my taste. #1 Grandson is drinking less white milk and more chocolate milk these days so I’ve cut down on whole white milk and getting that in a carton, but the local yogurt I’m still purchasing and I save the containers. They make wonderful water holders for our watercolor painting days, and the lids I use under my potted plant that I am trying oh, so, desperately to keep alive, and the plastic container I use to throw away stuff that I don’t want in the garbage disposal or sink.
I think becoming more aware of what we don’t want to spend money on or bring into our home comes with age. I’m telling’ ya… I spent a lifetime collecting dolls, doll clothes, furniture, miniatures=houses, furniture, accessories, china tea cups, and saucers, and spice tins and glass jars. I have tub loads full! My children don’t want it I can tell you that. Baby Girl is afraid of several of my dolls. She says they’re evil. Really? I can think of only one of my dolls that might, might make think she wasn’t as nice as she should have been toward her. Elizabeth…I would give her away if that’s what it took. Right now she’s not so happy in box in the dark. Baby Girl would love me to give her away. I might before I die.
Anyway, I am not buying miniatures, dolls, or china tea cup sets, in any form miniature or otherwise anymore,
Today I just want to get rid of most of what I have.
I really am in downsize mode.
I agree with Baby Girl that some dolls can be super creepy. I’ve never collected them though, so I could be biased. Miss Sunshine has two porcelain dolls given to her by her grandparents. I think she really keeps them because it was her last gift from them before her grandfather passed away.
I have found my tastes changing. I used to collect Fenton. I still think it’s beautiful, but most of it is tucked away because I enjoy my seashells and plants more.