Recycling Done Wrong Impacts on Recycling Contamination

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After pouring the rest of the milk into a cup, you walk over and put the milk jug in your recycling container. Throughout the week you continue to put plastic shopping bags, and paper plates from dinner in the recycling container. By the end of the week you are ready to take your recycling bin to the curb to be picked up.

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This is what majority of residents do each week when it comes to recycling. But what if the efforts of recycling and taking the recycling out, is not worth it? Not rinsing the milk jug out prior to putting it in the recycling container, making sure that plastic shopping bags and used paper plates are thrown in the trash, is the main reason that recycling efforts are being contaminated. More efforts are being made to recycle, however there is one major issue that is affecting such efforts. Putting recycling contaminants in with the rest of the recycling is doing more harm than good. Before looking into recycling contamination, it is important to know what recycling is.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines recycling as the separation and collection of materials that otherwise would be considered waste, the processing and remanufacturing of these items into new products, and the use of the recycled products to complete the cycle.”(Recycling Basics) If by taking something that is old and making it into something new is so difficult, then why do it? Ultimately it is to assist in sustaining life and to preserve resources. It is important because of how pollution is impacting our environment. While there continues to be efforts to reduce the amount of waste that is being produced, the rate of our growing population is out weighing the efforts.

With everyone, we must account for each person adding significant waste over their lifetime. This started to become an issue during the 1950s when the economic boom caused an increase in the amount of trash being produced due to the increase of the growing population. When people started to realize the impact, trash was having on the environment, the Three R’s movement began. The Three R’s stand for Reduce the amount of waste you create, Reuse items that could have a future purpose, and Recycle whatever you can. (Gordan, 2015) Even though the Three R’s are still popular today, there is a need to evaluate what is affecting the efforts. Recycling Contamination is one of the main reasons why recycling is failing, more so in residential areas. Having the idea that placing plastics with plastic, glass with glass, and paper with paper is simple, is not the case when it comes to recycling contamination.

The EPA describes recycling contamination as, when incorrect items/materials are put into the system or when the right items/materials are prepared the wrong way. (Recycling Basics) So, imagine, when foods or liquids are put in the recycling container, the contents remaining in the milk jug mentioned earlier or contents remaining on the paper plate saturates the other recyclables. It causes the other recyclables to lose its value of getting to be recycled, and makes the whole container become trash. Now to think on a larger scale, imagine that you are doing recycling right, however your neighbor is not.

When the recyclables are picked up and combined with your neighbor’s recycling contaminants, your efforts towards recycling have now been ruined. To justify why recycling contamination should be of concern is to look further into the impacting factors starting with residential curbside contaminants. When looking into what causes a damaging ripple affect with our recycling efforts, we start off with looking into what cities and small towns are doing to assist. After reviewing and comparing locations, many residential locations have not been following city/town restrictions appropriately. Currently in White House, Tennessee, residents are not allowed to add frozen food packages, coated and uncoated magazines, and it is discouraged to place plastic shopping bags in recycling containers (White, 2013). When recycling is picked up with contaminants in them, it is then shipped to a processor. There are two recycling processors located near White House, Tennessee, Rock Tenn in Nashville and the more well-known Waste Management Inc in Rivergate. Waste Management explains, an average contamination rate among communities and businesses sits at around 25%.

That means that roughly 1 in 4 items placed in a recycling container is not recyclable through curbside programs, and this creates enormous problems for the recycling economy. (Bell, 2018) To further explain the damaging impact contaminants have is to look into how the processors are spending more money to sort through the recyclables, and to manage the extra waste. Recently the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) spent well over two million dollars in recycling equipment to assist in managing the landfill overages caused by the recycling contaminates. The TDEC introduced the 2015-2025 Solid Waste and Materials Management Plan to assist educating on the state’s pollution increased due to recycling contaminations. According to the TDEC Management Plan, curbside collection of recyclables only exists in 44 cities and towns in 26 counties.

Recent data from the TDEC reported that individuals living in Tennessee disposed an average of 5,710,987 tons of waste in Tennessee Landfills. This equates to 4.85 pounds per person per day. (United States) The TDEC has raised an important notion on the impact of how residents are at fault for the recycling contaminants. So what is the intervention to this expanding issue? Our growing population needs to establish and continue to update measurable progress by implementing and communicating more on the goals. Taking action towards recycling contamination needs to be reintegrated by educating on how the contaminants are having a devasting impact on recycling efforts. The need to finding better alternatives to packaging materials is also important. Panvalker and Piskolti-Caldwell makes a directive point that companies that provide packaging should take appropriate steps to recover packaging waste arising from their own production in line with the polluter pays and the extended producer responsibility principles.

The waste should either be taken back or recovered by the producers or made available free of charge for recovery by a third-party waste-recovery organization. (Panvalker and Piskolti-Caldwell, 2001) By ensuring that efforts are being made to expand education and outreach. The more we over-communicate and the more we educate, the more items will be kept clean and separated. Majority of what everyone uses can be considered recyclable by providing the needed information and education. When contaminants are introduced into our recycling bins, the items will become contaminated and will be sent to the landfill even though majority of our recyclables were viable. There will not be a future if we continue to do recycling wrong. Recycling is very important, and the slow destruction of the planet should also be of concern. We need to increase awareness and find ways that will improve our efforts to save our future.

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