In 2014, the National Waste and Recycling Association conducted a survey, that resulted in approximately 1 in 10 people admitting to throwing trash, in recycling bins. In addition, the survey revealed, that a whopping 1 in 5 people also admitted to throwing items in recycling bins, in which, they were not sure if the items were recyclable. Over the years, it has been well documented, that recycling bins has struggled with a contamination problem; furthermore, sometimes, even the items that are recyclable must be thrown out due to safety concerns or inability to be reused. In return, this has caused some to question the recycling process approach and long-term effectiveness. For example, the editorial, “As Recycling Struggles, Charleston Can Focus on Reducing, Reusing,” recently suggested that we should place bans on plastics, such as, plastic bags, straws and foam containers Arguing that reducing and eliminating recyclables, can have a better, long-term, economic impacts, than recycling itself. However, the benefits of recycling are also well documented, and its ability to save energy, reduce waste, and conserve natural resources, are all aspects that do have long-term impacts, on the health of the economy.
To begin, one of the main arguments in the editorial, “As Recycling Struggles, Charleston Can Focus on Reducing, Reusing,” is that, “it is becoming increasingly impossible to divert waste.” Admittedly, it is true that every year, the United States produces over 250 tons of garbage, while only saving around 35% of that through recycling. However, even with the small percentage of waste saved, the effects and impact of recycling, to the environment, remain significant, in a positive manner. As evidenced, in 2013, when over 180 metric tons of carbon dioxide was prevented from being released into the environment through recycling. This according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Furthermore, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of hands to reroute that much waste. According to Recycling Economic Information, a study done in 2016, recycling and reuse activities accounted for over 755,000 jobs in the U.S, while also generating 6.7 billion in tax revenues. Although I can concede that, recycling has become more costly over the years, even so, it has also generated a lot more money than what we are currently put out, along with providing a decent amount of jobs for families. All the while, and most importantly, benefiting the economy.
Finally, placing bans on plastics, such as straws and cups, plastic bags, and foam containers, while it would help, it would only be a very small portion. Yes, aluminums are the most recycled container, so it would make since to ban certain plastics, due to the fact, that, plastics might be harder to process. However, how far can you go with banning plastics? For example, single-use plastics, play a large role in pollution; however, they are also commonly used in medical and for scientific research. Food sealers would also be hard to be replaced, as they not only help to keep food lasting longer in our homes, but even more so, are commonly used to seal foods, snacks, and other items you buy from the store.
In conclusion, while the recycling process can be a lot better and cost-efficient, the overall benefits of recycling remain to have long-term effects on our economy. As for the argument for reducing and eliminating, it is a compelling one, but how effective can it truly be? In retrospect, the question that critics of the recycling process, should have, is not, “Does recycling benefit the economy long-term?”, but rather, “how can we make the recycling process more effective?”. Ironically, the answer involves both the processes of recycling and reducing and eliminating. For one, one of the biggest problems with recycling is that there is so much waste, it is impossible to save all. Thus, eliminating plastics that are hard to be reused, such as straws, plastic bags, and foam containers, while only a small portion of the waste, it is a good portion of the recyclable items that goes to our wastelands and into our oceans. In the end, one process, is not better long-term than the other, rather, the economy will be better long-term because they’ve worked together.