Reducing, reusing, and recycling are all great ways any consumer can show care for Mother Earth.
Without these, too many of our man-made materials end up in landfills, or in worse places— like the ocean in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which is thought to be approximately twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas).
Of all the materials we ought to be recycling most, plastic can bring the most harm and pollution, especially in the form of microfibers and microplastics. It can alter natural environments, human health, and the welfare of wildlife.
For decades, we’ve been told that recycling our plastics can help fight this problem. But unfortunately, we’ve been lied to.
Apparently only about 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled, which is nowhere near the amount one would assume (or hope) when taking the time to separate all that out!
But it gets worse. The idea that plastic is even recyclable on the level we’ve been taught is pretty much a fable.
Big oil and gas companies have made billions of dollars making new plastic, while telling us that old plastic can eventually (and sustainably) be made into new plastic— but this has been shown to be a lie, because recycling plastic just isn’t economical.
It’s more expensive to recycle plastic than make more of it. In fact, chances are higher that if you recycle plastic, it still ends up in a landfill anyway.
**This is not an excuse to throw plastic in the trash, or insinuating that recycling is a waste of time. Plastic in the garbage is guaranteed to go to the landfill. Properly sorting and recycling is at least giving this material the best chance to make its way back into reuse.
What can we do about this?
If you (like me) are shocked by the truth of plastic, here are a few things you can do.
Turn to the other two R’s instead.
We can’t count on plastic being recycled and staying out of the environment like we thought it would. So instead, we should try leaning on other consumer approaches: like reducing and reusing.
“Reducing” means cutting down on how much plastic you use in the first place (especially single use). Reusing means finding other uses for the plastic you do buy or use, so it does not end up in landfills, the ocean, or other harmful places. (E.g. grocery bags, water bottles, building materials, etc.)
Turn to plastic alternatives.
In response to the world’s problems with plastic waste and recycling, some companies have stepped up with some great alternatives.
Instead of buying the same old typical products made of plastic— like bedsheets, straws, or water bottles— seek out these same products but made with different but more sustainable materials: such as bamboo, hemp, or starch.
It is critical that those of us who have access and the means to support the companies using next-generation plastic alternatives, do so as often as possible!
In the case of single use plastics (like bottles, plates, or cutlery), edible and health-friendly versions are starting to become more widely available!
A good resource for some examples is Plastic Free Living.
This recent public revelation about the truth of plastic recycling is just the beginning. We have a lot of work ahead of us — for the sake of the planet, the health of its inhabitants and ecosystems, and for ourselves.