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By the time you’re ten, you have most likely heard the phrase: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But how effective is recycling?
When younger, you’re more likely to actually recycle because you have been taught that is the right thing to do. However, that quickly changes once children grow up because their apartment or house charges extra for recycling, or because recycling is too much of a hassle.
According to the Clean Air Council, “Only 30% of people in the Southern region of the United States had curbside recycling collection [recycling that is deposited by the residents outside of each house and picked up by recycling representatives] in 2008. Eighty-four percent of people in the Northeast had curbside recycling.” Especially since the percentage within the Southern region is so low, it certainly does not encourage people to recycle. “In 2008, only 23.1% of glass disposed of was recycled, and only 7.1% of plastics and 21.1% of aluminum.” Surprisingly, “the average American office worker uses about 500 disposable cups every year” and “every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.”
The startling fact is that a lot of Americans do not recycle, “Over 7 billion pounds of PVC are thrown away in the U.S. each year. Only 18 million pounds of that, about one quarter of 1 percent, is recycled.”
Recycling is a huge deal on my college campus because we are trying to “Go Green” and leave less of a carbon footprint. Sure, there are still people who do not recycle and those who use a different plastic water bottle every day, but the majority of those on campus will at least recycle.
However, many times even “recycled” plastics cannot be reused, so why are so many of our items made from plastic? If you look around the room, you would be surprised at how many plastic items you own, ranging from food containers to shelves. Looking at the statistics for water bottles alone is sickening. The Clean Air Council claims that “827,000 to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil. 76.5 percent of these bottles ended up in landfills.” In addition, “26 to 41 percent of the 2.4 million tons of PET plastic discarded every year is bottled water bottles” and “because plastic water bottles are shielded from sunlight in landfills, they will not decompose for thousands of years.”
It may not be feasible to believe that plastics can be eliminated entirely from our lives, but everyone can be more conscious about their plastic usage. You can reduce your own plastic consumption in several easy ways, such as bringing your own bags to the grocery store so you do not get more paper or plastic bags. “Every year, Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.” In fact, “Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year.” You can also buy a reusable water bottle rather than buying bottled water.
If everyone made an effort to use fewer plastics, everyone would be doing something better than recycling: they would be proactive about an issue, rather than simply throwing something away in the proper bin.