Oct 9, 2020

The Problem With Recycling

Sergio Penguamo

e can all agree that recycling is an integral part of a sustainable strategy to keep the world a pleasant and healthy place to live, not only in our lives but for the generations of human beings to follow and the ecosystems that sustain our planet.

It makes sense to create what we can from recycled materials, like park benches, single-use items, and the myriad of other items that are comprised of recycled materials. Many consumer products source materials for manufacturing from places that recycle the materials that we need.

While recycled materials are all around us what we seem to forget to ask is how much of what we recycle gets transformed into other products. 

The Energy Paradigm Shift

In human history, we’ve seen lots of energy sources come as go as technology and society have progressed. As our need as an economy grows so does the environmental impact it leaves behind, which has been illustrated most clearly in plastics.

With a booming global oil market plastic production between 1990 to 2010 more than doubled and the push for municipal recycling programs was implemented in cities. Now more than ever people are following recycling protocols thinking that what they put into their green bins is actually being recycled and they are bettering the world.

Bait and Switch

Like much of what we see in the world nothing is what it seems. Behind almost everything, we think we know there is some level of ignorance on our part, you simply don’t know what you don’t know. Sadly when it comes to recycling plastic in particular, it would seem as though when we were told to recycle we did and forgot to ask how exactly it would work.

It turns out less than 10% of the plastic we submit actually gets recycled, far less than most people would think. That is a big problem. Not only for the world but for the people who sold us on this recycling scheme.

Buzzwords like clean-energy, green energy, sustainable, and eco-friendly have all become commonplace in talks of energy and today’s society. We assume we have the infrastructure to bring forward these new forms of energy and it’s simply the flip-of-a-switch away to make them a reality. 

Of course, it turns out that this is not the case. No one questioned whether we had the resources to effectively and efficiently recycle the number of plastic waste people would be generating. When recycling facilities can’t keep up with the flow of plastic waste it takes no genius to figure out that the leftover ends up in landfills, never to be recycled.

A Very Plastic Future

It’s projected that plastic production could triple in the next 30 years, a frankly disastrous possibility for our planet. With recyclables already piling up the last thing the world needs is more plastic.

While we were preached the reduce, reuse, and recycle mantra it seems we failed on 2 out of the 3. Going forward however we may be able to make up some ground as new technology built around the breakdown of plastics specifically is gaining ground. 

Scientists have developed an enzyme that can break down plastic drink containers that may have a massive impact on our waste problem. While breakthroughs like this are promising it still barely makes a dent in the 1 million plastic bottles sold each minute on this planet. 

Only time will tell, and the least we could do is our part. Take responsibility for your waste.

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