It doesn’t take a lot of effort to recycle properly. But, as many people have learned the hard way, if it’s not done right, then our efforts are going to waste and they can potentially have some serious effects on the environment. How does something go from being a good thing to a bad thing? Two little words: “Not Recycling.”
It all seems so simple. Separate your paper, plastics, glass, metal, and carts from the rest of your garbage. Just about everyone is aware of how to do it because it’s something that gets drilled into our heads at a very young age. And for good reason too – recycling saves millions of trees, reduces greenhouse gases, and conserves natural resources. But there’s something you might not know about recycling.
The city of Atlanta recently had a problem with recyclable materials that were caught in the machines that sort out the garbage (or “tromping”), which led to an enormous amount of recyclables going straight into landfills. I know what you’re thinking – how does a little bit of recyclable trash make a difference? Well, it turns out it makes a huge difference. It takes a lot of manpower and resources to separate this stuff from the rest of the garbage. If these valuable materials aren’t being caught in the process then all that effort is going to waste and it’s a lot of effort.
It’s not just big cities that have problems with recycling either. In smaller cities, people simply forget to recycle certain things, like plastic shopping bags or Styrofoam takeout containers. It doesn’t seem like those little pieces of trash will make a difference but they do add up over time.
What happens when plastic goes into a landfill?
Well, over time the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces and can create microplastics. You might not think twice about these tiny particles, but they are especially problematic because they wind up in oceans where sea animals mistake them for food. Microplastics are extremely difficult to clean up too – you’d have to go through every single piece of trash seeping into oceans and remove the microplastics, which is pretty much impossible.
Why are Microplastics bad?
Most of the time, people assume that recycling plastic will get rid of it completely. But unfortunately, this isn’t entirely true. In fact, most plastics don’t become recycled goods after being used once – instead, they are reduced down to lower quality materials that can be used to make things like fleece or carpets. This is good for reducing our landfill waste, but it can cause a whole new set of problems.
The plastics that you recycle do not disappear from the world once they are recycled – instead, they end up in someone else’s house or business. Over time, these lower quality plastic materials break down and release harmful chemicals into our environment through landfills and these chemicals can seep into our soil and water.
While recycling is a great idea, it isn’t perfect – but that doesn’t mean you should stop because there are a lot of benefits to recycling! Here’s what you can do:
- Make sure to recycle everything possible – paper, plastics, glass, metal cans, etc and put them in the right recycling bin or area. If you’re not sure if you can recycle an item, ask your local recycling plant. If it’s recyclable, they will know!
- Recycle properly – make sure that the item is clean and emptied before recycling it. This way it won’t jam up the sorting machines or cause problems to be made (like what happened in Atlanta).
- Try to reduce the amount of waste you make. Try leaving reusable shopping bags at your local store instead of getting plastic ones, or use reusable coffee mugs for your daily caffeine fix.
- Check what your city does with its recycling after it is collected – different cities use different methods, so some may actually end up in landfills while others may be reused to create new products.
- If you do recycle, make sure it’s not going to a landfill by checking your local city website – they should have information about this. Also, check with the recycling company itself!
Recycling isn’t perfect but minimizing your environmental impact is achievable if you keep these things in mind.
What If I have too much waste?
If you feel like too much of your trash is recyclable, then maybe it’s time to cut back. Save up your recyclables over the week and take them out in one go instead of taking them out daily. This way you won’t end up with more recyclables than you need.
Also, make sure that you’re not just recycling to recycle – think about if you actually need the item. Ask yourself whether or not it needs to be recycled before throwing it in the blue bin.
If you do have a lot of waste, hire an expert to deal with it, skip hire is a great way to get rid of a lot of trash and have it sorted correctly.