You are late for work. Standing in line at a supermarket, you glare at the slow shop assistant while inching your way to the front of the queue.
After what feels like an hour, you finally buy what you came for. It's a vitamin boosting concoction with enough caffeine to get you buzzing. It's the big meeting day and you need all the energy you can get.
At the office, you neaten your clothes and get your notes ready - it's time. Downing the last bit of your drink, you drop it neatly into the recycling bin. Time to crush that meeting.
Wait.. hold on... you dropped your empty bottle into the recycling bin?
Not only are you a super busy career worker, but you have time to be kind to the planet too? Your whole office deserves an award just for having a recycling bin in the first place. All this good karma is going to be great for you, the business AND the environment.
But before getting too happy, let’s see what happens to that bottle you just threw away.
Ronnie, the office janitor, keeps close tabs on the bins. His bosses hate when they look too full. Meanwhile, Janice, the loudmouth secretary, doesn't even know there is a recycling bin. She's too busy hunting down that hot lawyer from the 47th floor. So she just chucks in whatever clutter she wants - including papers with decorative staples arranged in heart patterns. Ronnie doesn't care about this. He just empties the bins and puts the trash out to be collected by a contractor.
The recycling company is smart. They don't want the actual hassle of recycling, so they send it off to someone else. “Out of sight, out of mind and into the profits” the shareholders say. Our little bag of bottles and paperclips gets compressed with other bags from other offices. These form compact bricks which are loaded into container ships and sent to China.
China's actually pretty good about recycling. They quietly bought the world's rubbish and used it to build their cities and sustain their economy. But they've changed their mind. You see, Janice's paperclips add up. Most of the recycling China receives is contaminated by pretty much anything. China is sick of trying to sort out other countries messes, and as of January 1, 2018 they started saying no. For the health of their people and land, they will no longer accept most kinds of recycling from other countries.
Luckily, our little bag got in before that. It makes up the 9% of plastics in the US that have actually been recycled. Everything else gets sent to landfills. Beating the incredible odds, our morning drink bottle managed to get recycled.
We bought a bottle of water at the gym later that day… it didn’t make it to China in time.
How do we make it better?
I don't need to quote the statistics. You know they are staggering , read about it here, here, and here. Recycling in the US has reached an all new crisis point with China closing their doors. In 2018, almost all of the plastic you 'recycle' will be sent to a landfill. In response, recycling plants have been looking to robotics to bring down the costs involved. You see, it's an economic issue - the recycling process simply costs too much. Plastic, cans, glass, every single recyclable sector needs to be innovated to succeed. Fixing this problem is down to human creativity and invention.
Step 1: Don't use single-use products
One step to rule them all. If you are only going to use it once and then throw it away, try find another alternative. Pick a day of the week and go clean, just for one day. Think about it, if you reuse one bottle instead of buying another one, you've just saved 50% on your plastic usage. Learning to be a plastic-free society will be the ultimate win. If we continue on the current trajectory, we'll drown ourselves in plastic shopping bags and straws. Do we really want more plastic in the ocean than fish? Let's keep our day dreams of a pristine (plastic-free) deserted island alive.
Step 2: Innovate
Recycling is hampered when materials are mixed. Make sure you sort everything properly and to the best of your ability. Metals are particularly harmful to recycling machines, so take those staples out! The faster factories can process recycling, the cheaper the end product will be. The US is seeing a boom in recycling spending as companies scrabble to pick up the slack from China's refusal. This is good news, we'll see more innovation and an increase of jobs that hopefully results in a recycling boom.
There is not one single person reading this post who doesn't care about our planet. We've seen some great initiatives coming out of the Paris agreement, so let's keep that going and do our bit to lower our trash usage.
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