A Plastic Bottle’s Journey: Recycling is Flawed

An environmentally conscious consumer forgets her reusable water bottle one day and buys a plastic one from the vending machine. She just bought one of the one million plastic bottles used each minute. In the time it took you to read this sentence about 50,000 plastic bottles were purchased. But our hypothetical tree-hugger is comforted by the mirage of recycling. After quenching her thirst, she tosses the clean bottle into the recycling bin with the best of intentions.

Shortly after, one of her peers walks by and throws a bowling ball in the same blue pin. Seems unlikely right? But most of Mr. Bell’s recycling facilities receive a bowling ball almost every day. I realize it still seems like a dramatic example, but the next person could have just as easily tried to recycle a greasy pizza box, an uncleaned takeout container, or a plastic grocery bag causing similarly bad results. No matter how wholesome the intention, throwing random items in the recycling bin ultimately results in more damage done. It’s called wishcycling and frequently causes damage to the machinery or contaminates batches, leading to a lowering the recycling rate. According to David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America, 10 to 15 percent of the material sent for recycling cannot be and ends up in landfills.

Due to contamination, the plastic water bottle was sent to a landfill, despite it originally being a perfect candidate for recycling :(. The recycling rate for PET plastic bottles is only about 30 percent, so the majority of the time plastic bottles end up in the landfill, rather than getting a second chance.

But what happens to the ideal batch of recyclables? To be honest, it depends where you live. Recycling is often determined by the local governments. Some municipalities are limited by their space and financial resources, so they have to send their collections straight to the landfill. However, others, like Lycoming County’s Resource Management Services (RMS), recycle all they can, so Bucknell sends its recyclables there! In other words, Bucknell still recycles despite rumors suggesting otherwise, so if you go to school here please keep recycling 🙂 it makes a difference! But despite gems like Lycoming RMS, only nine percent of plastic gets recycled, which is just a scary statistic considering we produce 300 million tons of plastic each year.

So, what can we do to help protect Mother Earth? To have a greater impact you have to take the problem into your own hands, by focusing on the first two R’s: reduce and reuse! By reducing consumption, you would be reducing the demand for certain products and throwing less out! There are some easy ways to reduce like buying sustainably and by purchasing items that won’t quickly go out of fashion. The less plastic produced, the less that will go to waste.

You can also reuse! By using reusable silver wear, napkins, water bottles, etc. you can make a difference for the planet and your wallet. The average price of a single use plastic water bottle is $1.29, yet you can get a reusable water bottle on Amazon for less than 5 dollars. After 5 uses you would already be saving money! Plus, by reducing demand, you would help lower the production rate, creating less waste. Yay!

Recycling is not a cure all, even though we act like it can be. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t still recycle, after all nine percent is better than zero, but we can have a greater difference by focusing on reducing and reusing. By simply saying no to plastic straws or bringing your own reusable containers, we could help minimize our ever-growing pile of trash. Remember to reduce, reuse, and as a last resort recycle! We can make a difference one step at a time 🙂

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