If you’re just tuning in, some background to our current recycling problem: In 2018, China, which previously bought and processed 70%(!) of the US’s recycled plastics, changed its policies about what kinds of recycled waste it would accept. China banned imports of certain types of paper and plastic, and cracked down on contamination (like leftover food scraps) in the materials they still process and recycle.
As long as we were shipping our recycling overseas, Americans never really had to deal with the repercussions of being, to quote Alana Semuels at The Atlantic, “terrible at recycling.” We tend to just throw everything into the bin without much thought about whether everything is actually, you know, recyclable. Now that US towns and cities are scrambling to figure out how to deal with recyclables, Semuels explains, they have two options: “pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away.”
While there’s not much you can do if your local recycling program decides to throw up its hands and throw out your cans, one key takeaway here is that if this country has any hope of building a successful recycling program, we all need to be more conscious of what we’re tossing in the bin.
Recycling is far from a perfect system (hence the need for both reducing and reusing), but understanding the dos and don’ts can decrease contamination and increase the effectiveness of the system as a whole.