You dutifully set out a full recycling bin each week brimming with plastic, paper and metal. It’s a good habit, but, unfortunately, recycling efforts aren’t working as well as they should.
In the last few decades, for instance, the number of plastic products has exploded, but only about 9 percent of them are actually recycled, according to National Geographic. Meaning most of your plastic beverage bottles, single-serve food containers, straws and cups end up in the landfill — and ultimately, the ocean — where they take centuries to biodegrade and harm wildlife.
More bad news arrived in 2018 when China (the recipient of much of the world’s recyclables) announced it would no longer accept many types of solid waste, including certain plastics, unsorted paper and steel waste.
As the world grapples with this latest recycling rough patch, municipal waste haulers are being forced to send even more recyclables to landfills. Learn more about the recycling crisis in this video.
So what, if anything, can you do? An important first step is to stop creating so much waste in the first place and start reducing and reusing more in addition. According to Kathryn Kellogg, author of “101 Ways to Go Zero Waste,” “Recycling will not save us. It should not be our first line of defense, but rather a last resort … The goal of zero waste is to send nothing to a landfill. Reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send as little as possible to be recycled, and compost what’s leftover.”
Here are 19 simple ways to start breaking the recycling habit and live a more waste-free life.
When ordering out, always forgo stuff you know will end up in the trash. That includes plastic utensils, straws, napkins, carry-out bags and those little packages of condiments. If you’re eating at home, you probably don’t need any of these items. Tell the takeout restaurant not to include them with your order. Some delivery services like Seamless and Grubhub let you check a box when you order to forgo napkins and plastic ware.
If you’re eating there, you can almost certainly do with less. For example, use bulk condiments (the kind you pump out into small refillable containers) instead of single-use plastic packages. Don’t take a plastic spoon if you’re ordering French fries. Don’t grab a huge wad of napkins when you probably only need one or two. And say no to straws. Americans use up to 500 million plastic straws per day, most of which are tossed after a few sips. If a straw is a must-have, consider carrying a reusable one from home. There are lots of durable options, including stainless steel, glass and bamboo.