AUSTIN (KXAN) — Recycling has so many benefits. It helps to lessen the amount of waste in landfills. Recycling helps to conserve natural resources for such things as minerals, timber, and, especially water. It helps to prevent pollution and lessen greenhouse gases with a reduction in the need to mine and process new raw materials.
But, did you know there are some products you may be recycling that shouldn’t, one in particular. It’s a certain product that many might use in the home but, more, at get-togethers and parties.
The Solo cup: Solo cups do have the recycling symbol on the bottom. Dedicated recyclers might be tossing these in a recycle bin.
They shouldn’t be.
The Environmental Protection Agency says these cups are made of polystyrene. This is plastic that is not easy to recycle. Why don’t people know this? Part of the problem is that there isn’t a streamlined recycling system. There seem to be too many rules and regulations that need to be merged.
The Columbia Climate School reports while many Americans are vigilant about by putting items into their recycling bins, the unfortunate reality is that much of it does not end up being recycled. It contributes to the belief that recycling in the United States is not working as it should.
Most of us see that recycling symbol and make the assumption that the item will be recycled. Some often will put their recycled materials in the wrong bins, or they place dirty food containers in a bin. This causes contamination which leads to many materials not being recycled.
Add to that that things like plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic eating utensils and meal take-out containers, items thought to be recyclable, end up being incinerated, left in landfills or worse, washed into our oceans.
Back to those Solo cups. It’s reported by the EPA that very few curbside waste services collect them. The manufacturers of these types of cups make that known on their packaging but not on the actual cup. They can be turned into new products but for that to happen, consumers would have to separate them and drop them at a specialized service. This, the EPA adds, is done by a very small number of dedicated people.
And, one more thing about plastics. The only plastic items that are consistently recycled are those with the “1” underneath (polyethylene terephthalate) and the “2”, (high-density polyethylene). The rest just end up in landfills.
Earlier it was mentioned that the lack of a streamlined recycling system contributes to the confusion. WasteDive, a website dedicated to providing recycling information, conducted a poll in 2019 that resulted in around 25% of Americans saying recycling is more complicated than doing their taxes.
What has to change? For starters, recycling issues can be minimized by developing a domestic market. In a country known for its technological expertise, this means improving the technology for sorting and recovering materials, incorporating more recycled material into products and helping to create the demand for said products by getting them to the marketplace.
Aiding in this area is when municipalities require a certain amount of recycled materials for their purchasing. If companies that process recyclables exist in a market where these materials can be sold then the motivation is there for better equipment to be invested in thus making economic sense to expand the programs.
As always, there is a right and a wrong way. Part of recycling the right way includes checking with the company or municipality that picks up your recycled materials and asking if certain products are or are not candidates to help contribute to saving our planet.
Bottom line: if you want something done right, keep the rules simple. In doing so there is a higher chance that more people will recycle than do now.