Are You Making These 7 Common Recycling Mistakes?
It took a long, long time, but curbside recycling has finally become commonplace in most U.S. communities. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans create 251 million tons of waste every year.
We say that we “throw away” much of this waste, but of course, there is no away. Most of it (around 135 million tons) ends up buried in a landfill somewhere, where it takes centuries if not thousands of years to degrade, potentially leaching nasty chemicals into our soil and water supply.
Here’s the sad part: According to Keep America Beautiful, the recyclable materials in the U.S. waste stream would generate over $7 billion if they were recycled. That’s equivalent to Donald Trump’s net worth. In order to stop the flow of valuable materials to the landfill, we have to recycle.
If you’re a regular participant in your community’s recycling program, you’re probably feeling pretty pleased with yourself right now. Not so fast. In order to get the most out of these reusable waste materials, we not only have to recycle, we have to recycle properly. That’s right, there are rules to this recycling game, and unfortunately, many of us aren’t following them. Below is a list of common recycling mistakes, along with information about why it’s so important to get it right–for your recycler, your community and your world.
2. Including plastic bags—It is very rare for a local recycler to accept plastic bags. Plastic bag markets require that these materials be clean, dry and empty. Once they go in a recycling bin, they definitely do not meet the first two criteria. Solving this problem is easy: a) don’t use plastic bags and b) keep bags separate and return them to a local grocery store that accepts them for recycling (look for a bin near the front door).
3. Leaving lids on plastic containers—While an increasing number of plastics are now recyclable (you should still check the number on the bottom against your local program rules), many people fail to realize that plastic caps are NOT recyclable and are a significant contaminant, both on and off the bottle. Left on, they often trap liquid, which is a contaminant. Separate them and throw them away. Always make sure bottles and glasses are empty and rinsed.
4. Including non-recyclable glass—All glass (or glasslike materials) are not created equal. Translucent bottles and jars are good to go. Ceramic dishes, china plates or cups, mirrors, laboratory glassware, light bulbs, Pyrex, porcelain and window glass are NOT. These materials have a different melting point and chemical composition from container glass. Seeing just one of these items in a load of container class can cause it to be rejected.
5. Food-soaked cartons/packages—“Leave the grease-soaked pizza box and oily Chinese takeout carton (and anything similar) out of the recycling bin,” explains the Fairport-East Rochester Post. “Ditto for dirty paper napkins. You can, however, tear off and recycle the unsoiled top of a pizza box.” When it comes to recycling, any type of contamination is a no-no. That’s why it’s so important to clean the things that can be cleaned (aluminum, plastic and glass containers).
6. Removing the labels from bottles and cans—Check with your local recycler, but in most cases this is an unnecessary step. Ha! I bet you didn’t expect that one. Save yourself some time, and toss ‘em in the bin, labels and all. Same thing goes for staples or other metal fasteners in paper and cardboard.
7. Shredded paper—“Shredded paper is too small to sort—the pieces literally fall through the cracks of the sorting machines and end up all over the floor of the facility, or worse, in with the glass,” explains Go Green Woolridge. Some recycling centers will accept shredded paper if it is contained in a paper bag and labeled “shredded paper.” And while we’re on the topic of paper, be sure to consult your recycler’s preferences when it comes to where paper should be placed. As this blogger found out, sometimes placing it in the bin with the other recyclables is a no-no.
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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