It's easy to think that by sorting our waste, and recycling what we can, we'll save the environment. But that's not exactly how it works.
WHAT MATERIALS ARE MADE FROM RECYCLING?
There's no end to what we can make with recycled materials. It's important that we support businesses who are making their products using those recycled materials. If we're not using them, what's the point in recycling?
These are just a few of the products made from recycled materials:
- Matt & Nat makes their vegan leather bags from plastic water bottles
- Vega uses recycled plastic to package their vegan protein powders
- Preserve makes razors, toothbrushes, and more from recycled plastic
- You can also find paper products, glass jars, and more made from recycled materials
The next time you're shopping, look for products made with or packaged in recyclable materials. You'll be surprised what you can find.
WHAT IS THE RECYCLING PROCESS?
There are two main types of recycling processes. The first involves sorting waste materials before it's picked up. You'll have separate bins for paper, plastic, and glass. This was how I started recycling and it was frustrating because the bins took up a lot of space. But it ensured proper sorting, which led to a more efficient recycling process.
The second process is called single stream recycling. This process is gaining popularity because it's easier for consumers, which means more materials are likely to be recycled. Like the name suggests, this process allows people to put all of their wastes in one bin. But eventually all of those materials have to be sorted.
Once your bins are picked up, they're taken to a materials recycling facility, or MRF (pronounced merf). There, materials are dumped onto a conveyor belt where workers inspect and remove anything that isn't recyclable. What's left continues along the conveyor belt where it's further sorted. Cardboard, paper, plastics, and metal materials all go to different areas where they'll be shipped off to be processed into usable materials. (Source)
While paper is sorted by conveyor belts, plastic and metal require a more high tech approach. MRFs use high tech machines called optical sorters. These machines use infra-red scanners that “read the chemical makeup” of materials (Source). There are also magnetic conveyor belts to grab metal and separate it properly.
IS SINGLE STREAM RECYCLING EFFECTIVE?
While this seems like a detailed and efficient way to recycle, single stream recycling has it's issues.
The first issue is that while we may want to recycle everything, not everything is recyclable. When we put non recyclable products in the recycle bin, we waste the time and energy of the MRF, and the material ends up in a landfill anyway.
Another issue is contamination. When everything goes into one bin, it's easy for one dirty bottle to contaminate other materials. If materials are contaminated or aren't cleaned properly, they can't be recycled.
Unfortunately, issues like these mean that around 25-40% of what goes into the single stream recycling bin actually ends up in the landfill (Source).
WHY SHOULD YOU RECYCLE?
If so much ends up in the landfill, what's the point of recycling?
If you remember from our post on biodegradable materials, you'll remember that it's important to keep as much out of the landfill as possible.
A landfill is an anaerobic environment, which means there's very little (or no) oxygen. The absence of oxygen prevents materials from breaking down properly, which contributes to the creation of greenhouses gases. Those gases trap heat and warm the Earth, causing global warming.
So while recycling may have its issues, it does save materials from the landfill. It also allows us to reuse these materials to create new products and packaging. That helps us reduce the need for brand new materials.
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE OUR RECYCLING PROCESS?
There's always room for improvement.
We can start improving the recycling process by learning about what is and isn't recyclable in our area. Even if you have single stream recycling, it's important to put trash in the trash bin, not in the recycling bin.
We can also make sure we're cleaning our waste materials properly. Wash your glass and plastic packaging, and make sure your paper waste isn't wet.
IS RECYCLING THE ONLY SOLUTION?
The short answer is no. I think it's really important to remember that recycling is not the one thing that will save our planet. We can't just recycle everything and hope for the best. But that doesn't mean it's not important. It's part of a holistic approach to reducing our environmental impact.
While you're improving how you recycle, you can adopt other habits to help the environment.
You can reduce the products and packaging you consume in the first place.
You can shop at thrift stores, where you can find anything and everything, from clothing to furniture and household items. You'll save products from going into the landfill, and you'll reduce the need to make new products.
You can also start composting, and look for products packaged in biodegradable materials, like our Baking Soda Free Deodorant Stick.
Recycling won't save the world alone, but it's still an important step in reducing waste. By taking the time to learn more about recycling and how to recycle properly, we can make recycling a more sustainable solution.
Sarah Price is a green beauty and self care writer with an obsession with holistic skincare. She writes about natural beauty, DIY recipes, self care tips, and more on her self titled blog.
Photo Credit: Alaska Public