They told us it was the big solution to our plastic problem. They told us that we could keep using single-use plastics as long as we separated them from our garbage and put them in a recycling bin. They told us that we could save the planet this way.
Activists warned us about the increasing use of plastics back in the 1970s. The big solution offered by companies that produce plastic or who use it in great quantities was to recycle. They told everyone to focus on buying products with those three triangular arrows that means the product or packaging can be recycled.
What they haven't told us is that for decades a mere 10% of plastics are actually being recycled. Now, there are 270,000 tons of plastics floating in the surface waters alone of our plane — that doesn’t include what floats in the depths or has settled to the seafloor.
What Happens When We Recycle?
Consumers have been faithfully separating recyclable items from their normal waste for decades. Unfortunately, the truth is that their work is mostly in vain. Recycling, it turns out, is actually pretty expensive. Companies couldn't find an economically viable way to recycle most plastics on a large scale. However, they conveniently don’t mention it and continue to hound the message that recycling is the answer to the plastic problem.
Sure, some of it gets recycled but as we already pointed out, it’s only about 10% of the total plastic waste.
The US used to ship their plastic waste to China for recycling. However, this stopped in 2018 as China began realizing its own rapidly growing plastic waste problem. Turns out they weren’t recycling as much of it as we might have thought.
And plastic use has increased astronomically. From just 1990 to 2010 it is believed that total plastic use doubled. Looking to the future, plastic use is expected to triple in the decades from 2020 to 2050!
Eliminate Single-Use Plastics
Once you understand that most “recyclable” plastics don't actually get recycled, you understand the urgent need to eliminate single-use plastics in our society. Up until this point, the bulk of the responsibility for recycling lies on the consumer.
But what if the focus shifted to the producer? What if there simply weren't disposable coffee cups available? How many more people would suddenly have reusable cups on hand, or would sit down and enjoy their cup of coffee at the coffee shop?
Or what if the producers could still offer disposable products but they have to be made of a single plastic that can more easily be recycled? The hybrids are often what gets in the way of recycling because it's so difficult to separate the materials in order to process them.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, reuse, recycle. That's what the three little arrows mean on the emblem. Why do we only ever talk about recycling? While it's a great piece of the solution to the plastics problem, it's only part of the solution. If we reduced the amount of waste we produce in the first place and reused the items that can be reused we won't have nearly as much recycling waste to deal with in the first place. Unfortunately, reduce and reuse are not talked about nearly as much as recycle. We live in a disposable society. When you’re running late it’s easier to grab a coffee on the go and toss your plastic cup in the recycling bin and not think about whether it will actually be recycled. It’s easier to toss your lunch goodies in a plastic bag rather than use a reusable container. Until we change that mindset, we won’t get anywhere. We need to focus more on sustainability and reducing our waste or reusing items rather than simply continuing to produce and use single-use plastics and think that recycling will save us.
Changing the Conversation
So, how do we promote real change? We as consumers can change the conversation. We can choose to buy products that have already been recycled. We can reduce our use of single-use plastics by purchasing items that can be reused. And we can support small businesses and entrepreneurs who are dedicated to selling sustainable products.
Here at Itemerie.com, we are dedicated to providing our customers with actual eco-conscious products, not the shady alternative touted by the plastics industry.
Choose our washable, reusable, plastic-free beeswax wraps for food storage and preservation and say goodbye to baggies in your lunchbox. Choose a sustainably made bamboo toothbrush instead of throwing a stick of plastic in the garbage every three months.
Browse our digital shelves today to see what other sustainable and no waste items will perfectly fit your needs.