T Nation

The Pitfalls of Recycling: Myths Exploded

#1

I used to think some time ago that all kinds of things could be just simply thrown in the recycling bin, and presto it is dealt with.

If a jar of jam had a little bit of stuff in it, it didn’t matter so I thought because they are going to melt the glass down with temperatures that will burn and render into slag the impurities. Same I thought for metals.

still, I wondered how diligently I should clean out a plastic container. I thought that there also must be some process to liquify the material, and that again a slag of impurities would come off of it , and yes, reveal the new old. Paper products I also had some doubt about. When i go out for a coffee, i am correct the cup goes in the garbage, but I will put the plastic top in recyclables.

As to food establishments, i always wonder how badly customers foul the stream and if the staff just trash everything without much consideration.

Swanson skillet meals I think are the next invention of the wheel, but what do I do with the package after? It has plastic on the outside, but a metal foil on the inside. Should I do my part for the Earth and put it in the recycle? Or is doing so obfuscating the recylability of the other items nearby in the bin?

Plastic has been found in the deepest reaches of the ocean, and many of us are living this fantasy that their local recycling program is their heaven sent way of fighting back against environmental disaster.

And thus this thread.

#2

From what I have heard, most of the plastic in the oceans is coming from third world countries where they don’t have proper garbage collection. In Jamaica I have seen rivers full of plastic bags, food containers, and bottles, you can imagine that in other places it would be even worse. In a lot of places people still burn their trash at home, including plastic, because they have no other option. If they aren’t at home then their trash end up in the bushes or a river.

As for what Canada really does with their garbage, here’s one clue:

#3

I have thought something similar for awhile and these articles seem to confirm it. Recycling is a way to feel good about “helping the environment” without actually helping.
Things like banning plastic straws seems silly to me when so many other pieces of plastic are ending up in the ocean anyway. I volunteer with some sea turtle conservation efforts and the amount of garbage they pull from these sea turtles’ stomachs is enough to make you want to avoid all single use items entirely (almost an impossible task nowadays). Every sea turtle the rehibilitation center brings in (usually a dozen or more a month) has signs of platic contamination including microplastics.
I do not think anything done in the US or other western countries will be able to curb the flow of plastic like from places like India .
Additionally, much of today’s technological devices that consumers “can’t live without” are made with non-recyclable plastics and minerals (like lithium).

I know that this post is complaining without offering a solution, but the problem is more complicated than politicians and scientific pundits (note scientific pundits and scientists are not the same) would have us believe.

#4

I get what you’re saying but this would still seem like an argument to be for banning them and not against. I wouldn’t think the answer to a lot of plastic in the ocean is “may as well use a bunch of plastic because a lot gets in anyways.”

That said I’m not sure how I feel about banning plastic straws. I did use paper straws this summer in New Jersey where the location we were at had banned plastic. It definitely had an effect on the taste and was noticeable. It left me longing for plastic although I’m sure you’d get used to it.

Always wondered why restaurants didn’t use stainless steel straws or something. Initial cost would be high but just wash them like you do your other utensils. Of course would have to figure something else for things like drive thrus.

Funny you brought up the turtle point as I just saw a picture the other day of the plastic contents of a sea turtle and it was mind boggling.

#5

And this is why people should take Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in vastly descending order of importance.

Recycling, on the whole, is still a better option than trashing everything.

#6

It’s kind of a “know better, do better” argument. Paper straws are very prevalent here on the East Coast of Florida (my county is the #1 turtle nesting site in the US) and to be honest, I really don’t mind them. I now bring silicone or metal straws with me in my kids’ diaper bag to solve the problem.
Dropping the ban hammer on something doesn’t produce the cultural shift needed for real change. Bans tend only to incite emotional reactions and there will always be that subset of people bent on using the straws (or whatever product) because they see the ban as a frivolous overreach of government and not as something positive. It’s like when my father uses the “I don’t like the government telling me what to do” reasoning behind not wearing his seatbelt. It ignores the real reason seatbelts exist.

I agree with you that consumerism is rampant and is a major modern society problem (I know this goes against my mainly conservative line views, but so be it. You would think other conservatives could get on board with “counting your blessings”.). The want to keep up with the Jonses’ is stronger than ever thanks to IG and other apps that use “influencers” to push product.

Plastics and other polymers definitely have there place in products, but should be used to make more durable goods (things that last years such as kayaks for example…nobody is throwing out their kayak randomly after one use). Do we really need all that plastic to create makeup? (They have found in my local intracoastal waterway that microplastics from makeup are the biggest microplastic pollution contributor in the area).

#7

I think bans elicit emotional reactions initially, but the generation that grows up with the ban views it as normal life.

Keeping up with the Joneses is a huge societal problem, and is largely to blame for nearly every major issue america faces currently… IMO.

Its crazy to me what people buy and what they think they should be able to buy, and then turn around and bitch about how they have a low standard of living. And buying all this useless shit…food/drink included… Just creates waste and harms the environment.

#8

Wholeheartedly agree. Now I have bought some frivolous stuff in the past (I just bought my wife an apple watch which I find frivolous but she says it has actually gotten her off her phone more…so maybe a win) and other “unnecessary” things (tattoos, tablets I didn’t need etc). I have found lately though that the less I focus on the desire for shiny new toys the happier I have become.

#9

Some more garbage drama for you guys. These tree-hugging politicians around here are a bunch of hypcrites.
https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/world/philippines-recalls-its-envoys-in-canada-over-tons-of-rotting-garbage/ar-AABrngx?ocid=spartanntp

Now see what is happening at city hall in the capital. Over here they have this green bin thing where you are supposed to put all biodegradable waste, but the thing is that this is a big scam that they are making taxpayers subsidize because the company that is processing the stuff is turning it into fertilizer and garden soil and selling it. How does preventing biodegradable items from reaching a landfill help to save the environment? It defies logic.

It was recently proposed to allow people to put their trash in a plastic bag in those bins because they are fucking disgusting plus it’s winter most of the year here and the stuff gets frozen inside. I refuse to use a green bin.

Now see this parasite, whose interests is he defending? Looks to me like he is on the payroll of the green trash processors.

“If single-use plastics begin to be phased out in Ontario and Canada, why would we move in the opposite direction by encouraging more non-biodegradable plastic bag use in our organics stream?”

Plastic bags in the green bin are a climate emergency. Are they going to ban garbage bags too? That would make more sense since that trash his either going to a landfill site or being sent off to a 3rd world country.

#10

I’ve read some stuff on minimalism and I agree with a lot of it. I have so much just pure shit I don’t need. Random ass shit I’ve bought off Amazon, etc. Hell I don’t even lift at home (I mean I do supplemental stuff) but I have a massive pile of various fitness things. My wife and I moved from a pretty big house to one that was smaller last year and while moving we were just blown away by all the crap we had accumulated.

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#11

You don’t understand how composting
compostables for re-use is better for the environment than filling a landfill?

Maybe I’m misinterpreting?

#12

It reduces the sheer volume of waste and size of the landfill.

I don’t know if it’s by a significant amount, but that seems like the most obvious reason to me.

Could be a real boon to the worm farming/live bait industry.

#13

I seem to remember a number of years ago that the City of Toronto at the time owned a landfill that was set up to capture methane. The electricity the methane produced was worth several million dollars, maybe each year.

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#14

We have one of those locally. I’ve never actually looked into the production stats on it though. I think a lot of these measures are “steps in the right direction” to see which ones actually have legs and are economically feasible.

I’ve wondered how much can just be burned as fuel to create electricity. A place I worked built equipment for the energy industry like heat recapturing, catalytic reburners, and electrostatic precipitators.

I wonder what it is that prevents downcycled plastics from being used for that purpose. I mean, I’m sure it has something to do with emissions, just don’t know exactly what.

#15

I know that if I smell burning plastic the fumes definitely drive me off. I mean worse than say a wood fire.

#16

Burning plastic has vastly more toxins and carcinogens that wood or other organic matter.

#17

The residents of New Jersey don’t have that same aversion.

#18

It isn’t. It’s just going to compost in a landfill site instead, and a landfill full of biodegradable waste would become fertile land eventually.

So why can’t they just move to another landfill site once the one is full? Canada is mostly empty space. As long as the previous landfill isn’t full of toxic waste, it could eventually be a useful piece of land.

Sounds like you could burn all of it, and there would be minimal emissions if done properly. This article discusses burning and other methods to get rid of plastic:

" waste-to-energy plants have the potential to emit low levels of toxic pollutants such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals. Modern plants employ sophisticated scrubbers, precipitators, and filters to capture these compounds, but as the World Energy Council cautiously states, in a 2017 report, “These technologies are useful as long as the combustion plants are properly operated and emissions controlled.”

#19

Sorry, Chris, but you should check out an exhibit that the Ontario Science Centre at least used to have. I went there once and they had on display a core sample of a landfill dating back years.

It turns out that organic materials mummify, instead of properly biodegrading. there are also batteries, older lead based ink, whatever crud you DO NOT want for fertile soil.

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#20

They set the bar pretty high in that article. Either zero waste and circular products or its not good enough is a great way to be discounted or disregarded.

I’d rather see steps in the right direction than an unreachable goal set by uncompromising deconstructionists. There is a new formula that looks good so far coming out of UC Berkeley’s chemical research lab. Hate to see good fall by the wayside in favor of “best”.

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