The Cleaning Aisle has a Plastic Problem
In about 400 years the first plastic ever created will decompose.
Seems crazy, right? The shampoo bottle in your shower that you’ll use for 2 months will outlive you by hundreds of years.
“There’s no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff
But, I recycle. I used to say this all the time and didn’t really worry about the plastic I was buying because I’m a die-hard recycler. Like, it’s annoying how much I love to recycle. I will go behind people and pull their soda can out of the trash to recycle it.
How Recycling Works...
Then, I worked as an executive in an electronics recycling company and learned about how recycling REALLY works. I won’t bore you with details but after visiting several MURFs, selling tons of recyclable components (like plastic, metals and paper) and understanding the bigger issues around recycling in cities around the US (and the world), here’s what I found out:
- It takes A LOT of energy to recycle anything
If you’ve never seen a Recycling Center I will share with you that it’s big and takes a lot of electricity to run. These high machines are stories high and use a lot of different sorting mechanisms like puffs of air and bouncing conveyors to handle the separation of multi-stream recycling.
- Only about 9% of plastic gets recycled
We have some to believe that when we throw something in the recycle bin it gets recycled – that’s just not true. About 91% of plastic ends up in our oceans and beaches or in our landfills where it continues to do harm.
- Plastic can only be recycled so many times
And new plastic is typically cheaper to make so the demand for recycled plastic to be used to make new products only extends the life of the plastic, it doesn’t eliminate it.
- Plastic is only recycled if there’s “someone” to purchase the recycled product
Covid has made a huge impact on every industry and the recycling isn’t left out. With most of our recycled plastic, glass and paper products going out of the country, that means lots of cities have no one to purchase their recycled material, so it’s just headed to the landfill for the time being.
- Plastic is ending up in the ocean is dangerous amounts
There’s one study that estimates that in 50 years there will be more plastic than fish. The plastic in the ocean eventually breaks down into tiny pieces called microplastics. These get swallowed by fish and may end up in our food stream, it’s estimated we ingest about 2,000 microplastic particles a week. This is about the weight of a credit card weekly.
So, I still recycle and know that my city is consistently doing everything it can, but I take bigger action as well and am actively working on reducing my plastic consumption to eliminate the need for recycling where I can.
This has been a years-long process of finding little products that replace my single-use plastic AND habits that allow me to change where I can. Honestly, I will never be zero-waste, it’s just too lofty a goal BUT I will do what I can to reduce my consumption and spread a little eco-love where I’m able to.
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Written by Rachel Blackwood
Rachel is co-owner of Gaia Natural Home. She's a certified Health & Wellness Coach and is passionate about coaching families making the transition to green living. You're most likely to find her at home with her family, cooking and hosting friends. She's a wife, mom to two great kids and splits her time between Dallas, TX and the Mountains in CO.