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!