This week while taking out the rubbish bins and separating the recyclables, I had an Ah-Ha moment. How did I get to this trashy way of living and throw so much stuff away?
I was brought up by a frugal German grandmother who reused almost everything. From jars, bags and cartons, she fed food scraps to the chickens or composted for the garden—hardly anything went into the rubbish bin.
But I also grew up in the culture of a “Throwaway Society,” one that encouraged unbridled consumerism and excessive waste. The rise of disposable packaging and single-use items was viewed as modern and convenient.
A 1955 article published in Life Magazine applauded “Throwaway Living” with a photo showing an American Family celebrating the convenience of disposable papers and plastics.
This pondering has me lead thinking about solutions that will help us build a less trashy future.
Recycling everything we can benefits us all.
We’re exploiting the world’s natural resources at an ever-increasing clip, and recycling reduces the need to extract and harvest new materials from the planet. In turn, this lessens the harmful damage and disruption that is done to the Earth, such as diverting rivers, displacing or harming wild animals, cutting down forests, and polluting the air, water, and soil.
Have you noticed how hard it is to get into a pair of tweezers? Not only do I unwrap the stiff outside plastic, but then I need to clip it from its plastic bondage to the cardboard backing.
All the stuff we buy is made, transported and wrapped in things that produce Global Greenhouse Emissions. Continuous emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere contributes to global warming and, eventually, climate change.
Recycling also takes the strain and methane out of our landfills. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
My old computers, printers and stereo equipment are all electronic waste that bears a toxic legacy of chemicals if not recycled properly. Mercury, lead, beryllium, brominated flame retardants, and cadmium are all present, and if not properly recycled, end up in our soil, water, and air. Another great way to conserve natural resources is by recovering gold from e-waste.
Recycling helps to create more jobs than throwing away trash in a traditional way and creates financial stability for more people. After sorting out your trash and depositing it for recycling, it’s shipped off to places where thousands of workers are employed.
Reducing and ultimately eliminating our use of plastics is critical for the benefit of the planet.
Despite the fact that the Global Plastic Recycling Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7% during 2021-26, plastic is a real problem.
Plastic bags are blown and washed into rivers, cavorting into our oceans, and they amass into giant floating garbage patches. The North Pacific Gyre (NPG) is one of the five major oceanic gyres, and it contains the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. According to estimates, this collection of plastic trash is 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.
As a result, marine life and birds mistake plastic for food and are perishing at alarming rates.
Until 2018, the U.S. shipped most recyclable plastics to China for reuse, but the country no longer wanted it, and tons of plastics have been landfilled since. My local Greenwaste won’t take plastic bags because there is no longer a good recycling market.
The U.S. Plastics Pact is an ambitious initiative seeking to unify stakeholders to rethink the way we design, use, and reuse plastics. Over 60 brands, retailers, Government Agencies, and NGOs are collaborating so that their plastic packaging will become reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025
The best solution is to find alternatives to using plastics.
I never drink bottled water, and I tote reusable shopping bags, and my organic produce isn’t stuffed in plastic; I use compostable bags instead.
There are so many alternatives to plastic. Stainless steel, glass, platinum silicone beeswax coated cloth, natural and organic fiber cloth, wood, bamboo and ceramics are easy and available food storage options.
The benefit of reusing things is endless. When I store leftovers in the jar that once held tomato sauce or pickles, it gives me great pleasure to know I’m not creating another piece of rubbish for the landfill or ocean.
Thinking about rubbish can also lead to innovation.
Mushrooms have mystified me for quite a while, and some do have magical properties.
The New York-based company Ecovative uses mushrooms to reduce plastic with mycelium, the root-like structure below ground. By inoculating organic plant waste with mycelium that grows and binds the materials together, they are creating a natural alternative to packaging materials made out of Styrofoam.
The Guardian reported that “Scientists recently discovered a bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic, it not only breaks the plastic down but uses it as food to power the process. The bacterium is able to break down polyurethane, which is widely used but rarely recycled.”
Our “Throw Away Living” has to end.
The Earth’s supply of natural resources is finite, and many resources are in very short supply. We must create a circular economy and move beyond a philosophy of single-use. All products, and especially plastics, metals and textiles, should be designed with the intention that their raw materials will be recovered and recycled. National Geographic does a great job highlighting the problem we face and the benefits of a circular economy.
It’s striking where the rubbish bin can take us—and it’s all up to us.
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