What Are The Solutions For A Broken Recycling System?

Blue Recycling Bin

One of my prime rules for sustainable living and conscious consumption is to first use up what you have before buying anything new. It's about reducing as much waste as possible and then to dispose of it properly, ideally recycled and then reused again. Even if you are the most committed recycler and you put everything neat, clean and tidy in your recycling bin, chances are high that most of it ends up in a landfill after all. According to a new study of the Environmental Working Group less than 10% actually gets recycled.

What's the Problem?

Largely, up until 2018, China handled nearly half of the world's recyclable waste for the past quarter century. That got terminated by China's “National Sword” policy, enacted in January 2018, with banning the import of most plastics and other materials. As a result

dozens of cities across the United States suspended or weakened their recycling programs.

Further more, too many things end up in the recycling bin that don't belong there. For example, plastic bags can’t be recycled in most curbside recycling programs and notoriously mess up recycling machines. Also a lot of consumers don't care enough or simply don't know what actually belongs into the blue bin. If you actually do care and recycle dutifully, another issue you might not know about is that any product can display the triangular “chasing arrows” recycling symbol, even if it isn’t recyclable. It's false advertising by companies and therefore, myriads of non-recyclable waste is thrown in the recycling bin each year, obstructing the recycling system.

Last week California proceeded toward becoming the first state to change that by passing a bill by the state’s assembly, which would ban companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is in fact recycled in most California communities, and is used (in a circular way) to make new products.

The measure is part of a growing effort across the country to fix a recycling system that has been broken. It is expected to clear the State Senate this week and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Other states started to also implement programs to curb the struggling and collapsing recycling system in the US.