The recycling debacle is distracting us from
the real issue
Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief
On campus and across the country there has been an uproar about recycling. China, the primary acceptor and processor of U.S. recyclable materials, has made their guidelines for contamination stricter, which has trickled down to the process being stricter at a local level. Everyone is upset about recycling, which is good in a way, but I just do not understand why recycling is given so much weight in the first place.
I recently listened to an episode of the New York Time’s Podcast, “Still Processing,” and in the episode “Circular(s)” the hosts talk about whether individual actions matter when addressing the impending doom of climate change. They talked to a journalist and author who wrote a book about how bad climate change is going to get. The point the author made is that we should stop focusing so much on small actions and focus more attention on political action regarding climate policy. In general I agree, although I did not agree with everything he said in his interview. I still think individual actions, when compounded, can have a positive effect on the state of the environment. Also, climate change is the big thing to worry about, but there are many other environmental issues that are not directly related to climate change, such as plastic pollution. Recycling is a combination of a carbon problem and a pollution problem.
My frustration with recycling is not new. For years I have been baffled why people focus so much on making sure they are recycling right instead of reducing their waste. Instead of making sure I recycle my drink container, I could buy one reusable one that lasts me years. I can make my own tea by buying (new or preferably used) a tea infuser and either making or buying my own loose tea. I can attest that it isn’t impossible to drastically reduce your waste. Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones, use reusable menstrual products, skip the straw or get a reusable one. Recycling will never fix the environment, and every time someone recycles something and gives themselves a little pat on the back, deciding they have done their good environmental deed for the day, we are deeper in the hole of waste. Both literally and metaphorically.
Post World War II, “throw away” culture became popular and has stuck. This means that many places, from restaurants to homes to parties, use items that are single-use and disposable. This makes for easy cleanup on the hosts’ end, but it is ruining the earth. Since turning 21 and going to bars, I have been exposed to the inconceivable amount of waste that one bar produces in a night. Plastic cups, plastic straws, and glass everywhere. Convenience culture at its core. Changing this culture is essential to reducing waste and reducing our obsession with recycling.
The other problem is that when we send things to get recycled, if they get recycled, we are usually putting the pollution from the recycling process in another country’s hands. At the congressional debate, Representative Mike Kelly addressed climate change by blaming China. What he failed to recognize or convey is that the U.S. uses other countries as pollution scapegoats, whether that be on the production or waste end.
So instead of arguing with the campus administration about recycling, we should be arguing about how to reduce packaging in the first place. A lot of the packaging used in Bruno’s is not recyclable anyways, so using reusables would be reducing waste to the landfill. Students should not have to wait for the administration to do something. Bring your own forks and plates to Bruno’s and then take them home with you to be washed. We, both on and off campus, cannot rely on others to start change. We have to do so ourselves, even if it is just a small action. Every person can make a conscious decision to not purchase food that contains a lot of packaging, use reusable cutlery instead of plastic, and use reusable cups and water bottles. Small conscious decisions add up.
There is a reason that the three R’s are listed “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” in that order. Reducing is the first action, reusing is second, and recycling is only for when the first two cannot be done. We cannot allow convenience to ruin this planet. If everyone made the decision to do those three things in that order we could drastically reduce our waste.