For decades, environmentalists have been shouting from the rooftops to recycle more and to this day, most still don’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, there is far more recycling done today than 50 years ago. But there’s also far more waste.
The sad reality of the situation is that the recycling system inside of the United States is broken. It just does not work and needs to be overhauled.
Let’s take a look at the problem.
How Much Stuff Actually Gets Recycled In the US?
Before we get into why the system is broken, let’s take a look at what the system currently does.
According to the EPA, the current recycling rate has improved from 6% in 1960 to 32.1% in 2018. While this might sound like good news, there is one glaring fault in this rate. It only factors in what is actually recycled.
To put it another way, only the stuff collected in recycling bins is counted. Thus, only 32% of stuff placed within a recycling bin is recycled. What’s happening to the other 68%?
Well, it still ends up in a land fill or sometimes it makes its way into the wilderness or oceans.
Why Aren’t We Recycling Closer to 100%?
Even if we accept the way the government creates our recycling rate, why is it so low?
Obviously, there are things put inside of a recycling bin that cannot be recycled. This is can be an honest mistake or just someone who didn’t bother to read the sign. Sadly, this is only a small problem.
The real issue is how recycling centers function.
Without a doubt, safety needs to be taken into consideration. The substances that can be reused, need to be processed in a safe manner. Thus, there are strict guidelines on what is safe and what may be considered “contaminated.”
For instance, a dirty plastic food container is not safe to enter the facility. Even though they can be recycled, these facilities will not take the time to clean these items.
Once you remove the items that cannot be recycled and the ones that are contaminated, there is one more problem. The facilities are not big enough to handle everything.
That’s right, there’s a good chance what you put in your bin doesn’t get recycled (about a 32% chance).
Facilities have a limit on how much they can accept, and the rest gets discarded.
What Happens to Extra Materials?
Here is the core problem…we send it to another country.
Yup, that’s right. We are sending huge freighter boats across the world to deliver waste materials. In the past, we have been sending these materials to China, but that is no longer the case.
In 2018, China no longer accepts trash from the US or other countries.
This was a major blow to the entire world but was especially bad for the US. China accepted nearly one-third of US trash and it caused a lot of issues. However, that didn’t stop the exporting of US waste.
No instead, the waste is sent to a variety of country’s that have lower environmental standards that are willing to accept it.
Why Not Handle Waste Management in the US
You might think that it would be logical to start handling our own waste. It makes sense, but there is a huge problem.
The US does not have the infrastructure to handle the waste they have been exporting for decades. The current facilities can only handle a small percentage of what the US produces.
So why not develop the recycling industry?
To put it simply, it is cheaper to fill a landfill than create a fully fleshed-out recycling infrastructure that can handle the enormous amount of waste within the US.
The Benefits of Recycling Outweigh the Costs
Of course, just looking at the cost of filling a landfill vs building infrastructure is not a good comparison.
The amount of raw material we can produce from our own waste and use it for manufacturing in the US is huge. It could help encourage more manufacturing within the US if material prices are lower.
Creating these facilities will requires workers, and not just to build them. These facilities will need staff to run properly. It’s a great way to create jobs.
In the fight against climate change, using recycled materials is a better option than making new ones. Making new materials requires more energy, which means more emissions.
In fact, most companies are looking for more sustainable solutions for regular products.
The amount of benefits behind recycling is massive, and they are there for the taking.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.