Revising Recycling

While+many+citizens+recycle+on+a+daily+basis%2C+a+majority+of+them+have+no+idea+what+happens+once+they+put+the+item+in+the+recycle+bin.+The+world+of+recycling+is+filled+with+concern%2C+laws%2C+restrictions%2C+and+politics+that+many+citizens+are+unaware+of.+A+global+effort+with+international+discussion%2C+recycling+starts+with+the+individual+at+the+homefront.+
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Revising Recycling

While many citizens recycle on a daily basis, a majority of them have no idea what happens once they put the item in the recycle bin. The world of recycling is filled with concern, laws, restrictions, and politics that many citizens are unaware of. A global effort with international discussion, recycling starts with the individual at the homefront.

While many citizens recycle on a daily basis, a majority of them have no idea what happens once they put the item in the recycle bin. The world of recycling is filled with concern, laws, restrictions, and politics that many citizens are unaware of. A global effort with international discussion, recycling starts with the individual at the homefront.

Wesley Henshaw.

While many citizens recycle on a daily basis, a majority of them have no idea what happens once they put the item in the recycle bin. The world of recycling is filled with concern, laws, restrictions, and politics that many citizens are unaware of. A global effort with international discussion, recycling starts with the individual at the homefront.

Wesley Henshaw.

Wesley Henshaw.

While many citizens recycle on a daily basis, a majority of them have no idea what happens once they put the item in the recycle bin. The world of recycling is filled with concern, laws, restrictions, and politics that many citizens are unaware of. A global effort with international discussion, recycling starts with the individual at the homefront.

Wesley Henshaw and Madeline Lee

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It is the eve of trash collection day in the 63017 neighborhood of Appalachian Trail. An empty paper Schnucks bag in hand, you go to gather up the trash bags in your house to put in the collection bin. The paper bag goes with the rest of the trash, and on Tuesday morning you take out only one can- the trash. Recycling has become a thing of the past for Chesterfield, whose policies on recycling followed those of Kirkwood. What is only a possible future for Chesterfield is the current reality for Kirkwood.

Kirkwood does away with recycling program

Many citizens are unaware of the cost of recycling, but this cost is causing the city of Kirkwood to do away with curbside recycling programs.

An unfortunate reality of curbside recycling is that most of the recycling in the United States gets exported to China, where taxes, tariffs and strict restrictions on what can be recycled such as the quality of paper, which is a large part of what people recycle.

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Paper makes up about a third of the recycling stream at Republic Services’ recycling facility in Hazelwood — one of two major processing centers for the region’s recyclables”.

Many city officials believe that despite the environmental benefits, the amount of money that it cost the city was just too much.

Now, due to this cost, Kirkwood’s discussion has been made over the termination of the seven-year curbside recycling collection program. The former recycling collection bins are being relabeled as trash cans, and Kirkwood citizens must find a new way to recycle, as many citizens see recycling as a vital part of the environment.

“I think that recycling is very important for the community and it’s important that high schoolers know the impact so it can make a good impact as we grow up,” freshman Brenna McClain said. “If they were to get rid of [recycling], I believe it would negatively affect the community because we aren’t teaching the younger generations the importance of recycling.”

Kirkwood expects other St. Louis cities to follow in its footsteps, such as Chesterfield.

“If [Chesterfield were to get rid of recycling], that would be horrible,” senior Bella Neuman said. “It would cause more environmental damage and would make it much more difficult for people who want to recycle.”

Rules from China restrict recycling efforts

Beginning this year, China has implemented a new policy that has completely shaken the recycling market. To put it simply, they stopped importing plastic waste from the United States.

For over 25 years, it was the common practice of many richer countries, including the United States, to ship their plastic waste to poorer Asian countries where they could be repurposed, reused and recycled, according to National Geographic. However, the main importer of plastic waste was none other than China, making up 45 percent of plastic waste imports and taking in two-thirds of the world’s plastic waste.

The United States, for instance, would take a majority of their plastic waste, press it into plastic bales, and send it on its way to Asian countries overseas via shipping containers. This method is much cheaper than actually doing any recycling in the United States for a number of reasons. One more interesting reason it’s cheaper is that we get a discount on using those shipping containers. The shipping containers, which are already heading for China because they have to return there, have a sort of “returning-to-China” discount. As a result, transporting the waste overseas was actually cheaper than moving the waste around at home on railways and such.

Additionally, it is important to note that the countries were buying our scrap, so we were actually making money off of it this way. China and other countries would buy the scrap to make boxes, toys, and other products that they could make money off of. With lower transportation costs, and the prospect of making money off of the waste, sending recycling to Asia became appealing for many countries.

China recently made a big change to their policy, ceasing to take in any more waste, stating that recycling has gotten to be too much of an environmental concern, as the country was taking on too much waste that they couldn’t reuse. For those familiar with the general environmental state of China and its high levels of pollution, this does not come as a surprise.

Now China has limits on the level of contamination that plastic bales sent over from other countries can contain. Contamination levels in these plastic bales refer to the purity of bale, or how much of the bale is the same or can be recycled. Contamination occurs whenever wrong objects, such as food items and clothing ends up in the same place as plastic bottles and containers. China has placed these limits at one-tenth of a percent contaminated. For context,  in the county of Monterey, California, some cities typically have a contamination level of roughly 30 percent in their recycling.

Changes in recycling affect America

As dire as this may seem, effects on America will not be so easily seen in everyday life, as most issues will be behind the scenes. There are still markets for many plastic materials, though currently materials like plastic film have nowhere to go.

The main effect we’ll see is in the management of our plastic waste. Even if markets exist, no other country has the capacity of China. It was estimated in a Science Advances study that approximately 111 million metric tons of waste could be displaced by 2030 because of this change.

With so little waste being recycled in the first place, about 9 percent according to National Geographic, most of it going into landfills, incinerators and the general environment. In the coming years, the already low number of properly recycled items could shrink.

Some areas, such as Kirkwood, may decide that recycling programs are too expensive and that they are better off dropping them. However, on a more hopeful note, the large wave made in the global recycling market is thought to potentially pressure countries to find newer and more efficient methods of managing their waste. Perhaps this could be a good thing? But it is still far too early to tell and there’s no guarantee for anything.

Recycling begins with individuals

One cause for the lack of properly recycled waste is that people do not know what can and cannot be recycled. People may recycle something that cannot actually be recycled, or throw something away that could have been.

When individuals place something in recycling that cannot actually be recycled in the hope that everything will be recyclable, it is something that is known as aspirational recycling, and it is one of the biggest threats to the cleaner disposal process.

As stated earlier, contamination is a large problem with exporting recyclable waste to China. If even one piece of one thousand recyclable items is non-reusable, it causes the entire bin to become contaminated. With contamination standards being so strict, that means that the entire bin may have to go to the landfill instead.

With dangers to the environment such as plastic straws and bags, it is important that all waste be disposed of properly. While it takes something organic, such as fruits and vegetables, only a matter of days or months to decompose, it takes plastic bags and styrofoam cups 500 years to decompose at minimum, and these can also remain forever, according to the Science Learning Hub. Instead of going to a landfill, many companies are trying to find ways to reuse these items.

Environmentally, this causes a crisis for not only the land, but for the oceans. The movement to get rid of plastic straws has recently picked up steam, but that can only do so much.

“People need to recycle more and companies need to make more recyclable packaging,” Neuman said. “That way there’s less waste that’s just sitting around causing pollution, ruining the ocean, and the environment in general.”

There is also evidence that rising trash levels have not only degraded the environment, but that it also contributes to rising global temperatures.

“There’s no reason to ignore something that’s blatantly and scientifically true,” Neuman said. “This country is going downhill because people are convinced global warming isn’t real when there is actual scientific evidence. They want to do what is convenient now versus what is going to benefit us in the long run.”

While some students disagree that the country is going downhill, there is an overall sense that something about the environment needs to be done.

“It’s important to recycle and to help the environment,” junior Ryan Finley said. “While the country is still great, something needs to be done. There’s a dump by my house that has been on fire for a couple of years now, polluting the air and the smell, and no one is doing anything about it. Things build up over time and we need to help the future.”

Besides knowing what can and cannot be recycled, those who wish to help the environment can reduce the amount of trash that they must get rid of.

“My family uses one bag of trash a week,” senior Ritika Ravichandar said. “That’s how much we recycle.”

Another possibility for those who want to take action, writing letters to and calling State officials to figure out an alternative way to recycle besides exporting to China is a way to get involved on the political front.

Everyday items such as Starbucks cups, pizza boxes, plastic grocery bags, and butter tubs should never be recycled. In addition to these, holiday items such as Christmas trees and Christmas lights should also not be recycled.