I try to be diligent about keeping potential recycling materials out of the trash. We compost non-meat or -dairy food wastes and use it for our gardens, and our town provides bins for recycling as part of our routine trash collection. Among my weekly chores is taking out the trash, recycling and compost.
I do admit to some confusion about recycling. Many of the products feature a recycling triangle that shows what kind of plastic it is. Often, I’m not wearing my glasses so find it hard to identify if there is a recycling symbol or not, so I go by instinct. As a result, I suppose my sorting score would be relatively low, but, hey, at least I’m trying.
Now I read that I may have been misled. Science writer Starre Vartan observes, “What goes into the recycling bin doesn’t always get recycled. Fewer and fewer facilities are able to process anything other than #1 and #2 plastics, so why do all those other plastics have recycling symbols on them?”
Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar says, “Instead of getting serious about moving away from single-use plastic, corporations are hiding behind the pretense that their throwaway packaging is recyclable. We know now that this is untrue. The jig is up.”
Vartan continues, “Reusing what plastic does come into your life (sandwich bags, bread bags, and plastic boxes and containers that can be repurposed) will give the plastic a longer useful life, even if it does end up in the landfill.”
I feel safe recycling my beverage cans. However, Alter notes, “The real carbon footprint of beer is in the manufacture of the container, and the choice isn’t between a new can or a new bottle, but between a refillable bottle, like most of the world has, and the disposable container that Americans have been trained to use … In fact, using a refillable bottle uses 93% less energy than making a new container. And the washing water? It takes between 47 percent and 82 percent less water than is needed to manufacture new one-way bottles for the delivery of the same amount of beverage.”
He concludes, “The fake circular economy would have you somehow magically pick everything up and turn it into new plastic, but it is a fantasy. If we want a truly circular economy, we should just ban single-use disposable plastics and be done with it.”
I remember as a kid reclaiming deposits on pop bottles when you turned the empties back in, which could be a tidy source of income (for a kid) if you lived near a busy road. We saved our plastic containers and bags (relatively new at the time after replacing the wax-paper sandwich bags), to use in the next day’s lunch. We kept the butter tubs and similar containers to refrigerate or freeze leftovers and other foods.
Us kids were tasked with cleaning the various items to be reused, particularly those that couldn’t go through the dishwasher. Rinsing the bottles was okay, but tedious, sometimes getting the cigarette butts out was a pain. but sandwich bags were the worst. In hindsight, I also wonder about the degree of hygiene that resulted from that bologna and cheese sandwich with mayo and mustard sitting in the used sandwich bags in lunch sacks in a warm Texas school classroom for half a day. In retrospect, I wonder if all my childhood illnesses were actually due to reusing those egg salad sandwich bags.
Lloyd Alter, Canned Beer vs Bottled Beer and The Fallacy of False Choices, August 16, 2013, TreeHugger
Lloyd Alter, Greenpeace Report Confirms That Recycling Rate Is Getting Worse, October 25, 2022, Treehugger Voices