We have learned about the 3R’s since elementary. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. You may also remember all the scrapbooks and small posters we had to make for Earth day every year. But, what exactly is the impact of 3R’s, and how important is recycling?
Before we get into all the explanations, let’s rewind to the 1970s and learn the history of the 3R’s.
Americans were on the road to becoming more environmentally conscious during the Vietnam War. Many were demanding government action on issues such as air pollution, waste, and water quality. These demands would lead to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formation and Congress passing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act bill in 1976. It was during this peak that the term ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ came to fruition.
Now that we know where the term came from let’s talk about the impact!
EPA states that “the most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place,” hence reducing and reusing. Some benefits of reducing and reusing include pollution prevention, energy-saving, greenhouse gas emission reduction, sustainable lifestyle, and money-saving. Recycling is also known to maintain global oxygen levels, reduce landfill waste, save energy, and sustain a healthy habitat and ecosystem for wildlife.
Now, the question is, is it effective? Because to solve environmental issues, we need our solutions to be effective and sustainable to guarantee a better and greener future.
Well, reducing and reusing is pretty straightforward, and the impact is apparent. If you reduce what you buy, then you reduce landfill waste. If you invest in a reusable item, you can help reduce landfill waste too. Take metal straws, for example. If you're big, say, Starbucks drinker, then by bringing a metal straw with you, you can reduce the number of plastic straws you would waste in a day. You could also bring your cup when buying coffee to reduce plastic waste. (Read more about sustainable living here!) You can also reuse clothes by buying second-hand or thrifting. Reusing is also applicable for accessories as well as furniture!
But, what about recycling?
Recycling plastic has been an effective campaign going about in the past few years. Select your waste and put your plastic waste in the recycling bin. So, where is all this plastic going?
The waste industry is a multi-billion industry that takes every opportunity to get profit. The industry collects plastics, cardboard, papers, and some metal to be exported internationally. Doesn’t this remind you of the quote, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”?
However, recently, the waste industry was placed under the spotlight. This scrutiny took place in early 2018 when China, the biggest recycled waste market in the world, closed its doors to imported waste under the National Sword policy that prohibited 24 types of waste from entering the country. Many believe that the Plastic China documentary triggered this decision, showcasing the truth behind their ‘recycling’ industry (there is not much recycling happening, and worker’s wages are below the minimum).
So, now all the garbage is piling up with nowhere to go.
The UK has been facing a crisis in its waste management for a while now. The representative body of the national plastic industry has admitted that “the UK cannot recycle all of the plastics it produces.” This fact showed how the UK struggled to find output to all their plastic waste, desperately sending it to countries that will take it ever since China has closed its borders. However, this does not guarantee that the plastic will be recycled at all. America is also under stress trying to manage its plastic waste. Can you imagine 2kg of waste produced by each person every day? That’s about 6 million tons of garbage thrown daily.
But the ‘closed door’ is not the only issue with the waste industry.
Did you know that the recycling process itself selects the type of plastic waste we throw? Unfortunately, the industry only selects 9% of the plastic to be recycled. These selected plastics are usually plastic materials that are not mixed with other materials, such as foil. Those chip packages that you put into the recyclable bins cannot be recycled since it has a foil layer in the inner side. Then, all the ‘unpick’ plastic will waste away in landfills and will slowly end up polluting our soil, rivers, and, most dangerously, oceans. We need to be smart about what material we put into the recyclable bins. (You can learn more about recyclable materials here.)
So, while reducing and reusing are commendable, we need to rethink our decisions to throw our recyclables in the recycling bins.
The best thing we all can do right now is to start reducing our waste. We can also begin to reusing, especially our plastic waste. (Just keep that plastic container you got from take-out!) Lastly, recycle responsibly. Learn about recyclable materials and (if possible) how to recycle them yourselves.
Let’s be more conscious about our actions. Better now than never.