“The blue bin may be preferable to the trash can, but recycling still has a waste footprint – and it requires someone on the other side of the equation to use what you toss. A better goal is simply to have less stuff.
Reducing the number of toys you have, the quantity of cleaning supplies you buy, even the amount of meat you eat. My constant focus on reduction over recycling, upcycling or disposing of waste responsibly is a deliberate one. Put simply, recycling isn’t enough.
Recycling is good, and I’m not here to contradict that. When the options are to either toss a plastic bottle into the recycling bin or into the trash can, you’ll see me shaking my pom-poms for the blue bin. But I’m afraid the black-and-white thinking ends there. Recycling is a complicated business, and not always a pleasant one to boot.
First of all, recycling doesn’t wipe the slate clean. It requires an enormous expenditure of energy and resources, including the monitoring of collection sites, the transportation of recyclables, and the recycling manufacturing process itself.
Plastic, my nemesis, is especially problematic in that it can rarely be used for primary reprocessing – the process of breaking down a product and manufacturing it back into that same product. Plastic’s sensitivity to heat and light mean that its long, flexible molecules (the same ones that give it its unique malleability) degrade and break down when exposed to repeated thermal and mechanical processing. In plain terms, plastic has a sort of “heat history”, degrading more and more each time it’s processed. This process is irreversible.
For this reason, plastic is typically used for secondary reprocessing, which takes recovered plastic and uses it to create items which are not typically recyclable themselves: bumper stickers, textiles, and plastic lumber.”
Article by Madeleine Somerville