Reduce, reuse, recycle – it’s a phrase that most every American knows. It’s just unfortunate the first two “R”s get so much less attention than the last one. I’ve heard some climate activists say they are doing their work because “recycling isn’t going to cut it.” I agree with them – it is not nearly enough to just recycle.
However, we do need to be well-informed about recycling because consumption is not going away. While it seems simple, we need to ensure we know what we can and can’t recycle. This can have a big effect on whether the recyclable materials make it to the landfill or actually get converted into new material for reuse. Most municipalities have recycling guides on what they accept. For example, the city of Madison posts this simple guide on their website: https://www.cityofmadison.com/streets/recycling/documents/Eng_Full_Page.pdf
We also need to stay up to date on more macro level recycling trends and how that impacts what gets recycled. There was been a major shift in recycling in the past two plus years because China stopped accepting plastic wastes. This caused the demand for plastic waste to drop off and more and more plastics that were “recycled” ended up heading to the landfill because it didn’t make economic sense to recycle the materials. You can learn more about that and these more macro level influences with this 99% Invisible podcast and article: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/national-sword/
Even though reduce and reuse need to be weighted much more heavily, make an effort to stay informed about recycling, spread good practices, and advocate for economic policies that help support recycling and therefore, our earth.