Sustainability means doing more than just recycling plastic

Recycling alone isn’t enough

PHOTO: Prerita Garg / The Peak

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

The amount of plastic that occupies landfills isn’t talked about enough. Recycling plastic may seem like the best solution, but just because you recycle your plastics doesn’t mean they will be recycled properly — if even at all. Over 91% of plastics around the world aren’t recycled. Most are disposable and end up in landfills, and only 12% are incinerated. 

Many cities in the Lower Mainland have recycling initiatives, but this comes alongside limitations regarding what is allowed to be recycled, and what is considered trash. Recycling is made even more complicated when certain plastics are allowed to be recycled and other plastics aren’t. To add to that, 25% of all recycled material in Canada is deemed “non-recyclable by contamination,” according to CBC. Regardless of if or how we recycle our plastics, they stay on the earth; around 86% of plastics in Canada will ultimately end up in landfills. 

The first step in tackling plastic waste is transitioning away from unsustainable products — notably plastics — and this needs to be done at both a personal and global level. Our focus should be on reducing and reusing before recycling comes into play.

An impactful way to recycle is material being made into other products such as shoes, bags, cans, shoes, papers, and even household surfaces like countertops — yes, my kitchen countertop is made from hundreds of layers of recycled papers and plastics! On a personal level, using reusable water bottles, cutlery, and bags are easy ways to reuse already-existing materials. This reduces the energy that goes into making and disposing of new or single-use plastics. Don’t forget that the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in that order for a reason! When it comes to making sustainable personal choices, recycling should ultimately be the last step.  

“Our focus should be on reducing and reusing before recycling comes into play.”

To successfully reduce the creation and consumption of plastics, we need to completely eliminate them altogether, so that no more of these so-called recyclable materials continue to circulate landfills. This can only be done by transitioning away from plastics on a global scale and developing quality alternatives. Bioplastics are one alternative to standardized plastics, and include cellulose and hemp plastics that are slightly more sustainable. 

That said, it still takes years for these plant-based plastics to break down, and sometimes they cannot be composted properly, despite their claims. This is why governments must invest more in finding workable and accessible alternatives, and those who have the means to make conscious decisions regarding plastic use should do so. We have the ability to collectively reduce our need for recycling overall. Reducing plastic use will lead to a change for the better, but in order to make a long-lasting impact, plastics need to be eliminated once and for all.

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