I hear/read this quite often: "I know there is a plastic problem somewhere in this world in Asia and China etc., but where I live its clean and we are recycling plastic, so all is good, we don´t need to make changes."
Well, that is actually not true!
Yes, there are places where you wont find a lot of visible plastic trash on beaches or in parks and rivers. It's true that some countries are real good in recycling management.
But its not true that this does mean that everything is fine.
One important thing is: in the western world we are releasing loads of micro fibers every time we run the washing machine! (plastic waste you can't see).
Why? Because more than half of the clothes we wear is made of plastic. Nylon, Elasthan, Viscose, etc. Plastic has a lot of names, and with every wash we are releasing them into our drains and because the fibers are so tiny, they are getting through the filter and where is every water flow ending? Yes, right, in the ocean.
So scientist say already, that world oceans are all affected by our choice of clothing. Theres already more micro plastic in the ocean than plancton!
(learn more about microfibers here: http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-microfibers/)
So please never ever say: its only the third world countries dropping so much plastic into our oceans, because we do too, just that you mostly can´t see (or dont want to see) it with your own eyes. (Just think about fireworks, balloon releases, cigarette butts)
I read an interview a few weeks ago where they found out that micro plastics in South East Asia is mostly from water bottles and other hard plastic, food wrapper, and in the ocean close to America, they found out most micro plastics is actually from clothing.
It's sadly true that beautiful countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. has huge problems with trash because it came way to quick in masses!! They didn't have enough time and maybe not enough caring governments to catch up with waste managements. Most landfills are close to the sea or a river and heavy rain (have you ever seen a monsun rain live?) will just wash the plastic trash into our oceans.
But remember: even a big country like the US still have landfills! They don't invest in "burning waste to energy" facilities because landfill is cheaper.
The waste to energy facilities aren't solutions either. But they fight against the amounts of trash we produce, and they are a solution against landfills, but they produce toxic ashes/gas too and they destroy nonrenewable resources.
If you are a responsible human and you are not littering and you are recycling at home, that´s not a 100% chance that your plastic trash is not ending in the ocean/river and it certainly doesn´t mean that it´s actually getting recycled.
There are some "funny" people out there, kicking bins, destroying bins, so that trash gets released, there are overflowing bins without lids and the wind can blow it away or birds can pick out the trash, if its windy when the garbage men are coming the waste can still get blown away, the trash companies might just burn the plastic to produce energy and it´s unlikely that everything will get recycled, so just too many loopholes if you are not bringing your waste to the recycling facilities by yourself, and make sure that it will get actually recycled.
Also a lot of people actually don´t care and are not recycling, even if they have recycling bins at home. I´ve seen this too many times in different cities where I lived.
The case is if plastic is in a mixed bin, or people are putting food trash into the recycling bin, that the plastic gets too dirty to get recycled, and lets be honest, a lot of people out there still don´t care about recycling, just throwing their trash in any bin.
So yes, it's important to recycle, but no, its not all good if you are living in a country where they have recycling!
The thing with recycling is this:
yes in a lot of countries they have recycling bins and sometimes also facilities, but that does not mean that plastic will get recycled.
In some countries they recycle about 6% of plastic waste in others its 40%. Ive never heard about a 100% yet. Tell me if you know about any country that does recycle a 100%. In Germany, where recycling is actually working quite fine, 99% (facts from 2015) of plastics, that get into the trash bin and not littered, are getting "recycled" but this means that 46% gets recycled/down cycled into products and 53% get "recycled" into energy (get burned in waste to energy facilities).
It is still cheaper to burn plastic and produce new plastic than recycle more of it. And they actually call the burning of plastic recycling. What a joke.
Glass (got actually already recycled in the antique and can get recycled unlimited times) and paper recycling is actually working really well in most countries, it seems like plastic is always a different story. Plastic mostly need to be clean and just one sort of plastic to get recycled. ToGo coffee cups can't get recycled because they are paper with a plastic lining. Some food plastic boxes are made out of two different kind of plastic and thats the reason they mostly can´t get recycled. It's crazy out there!
I just read an article about the world wide amount plastic:
The researcher from the plastic study say that we have just one option to reduce the plastic in our oceans: We need to reduce plastic production drastically. Recycling is actually just slowing down the way from a plastic product to waste. Plastic cannot be recycled for ever, so after one or two recycling its trash anyway and it will end up in landfill and our nature.
If we use and produce plastic like we do at the moment, we will have 12 billion tons of plastic trash on landfill, nature and in our oceans!
So yes, it is good to get your plastic bottles recycled, but we cant rely on recycling because the product will become trash at one point. We need to refuse, reduce, reuse, refill, and then think about recycling as the very last step.
(You can find more facts here: advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full)
You might know the mantra (or the song from Jack Johnson, you can watch it here->3R song) "reduce, reuse, recycle". The newest mantra goes: Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle!
And theres a reason why recycle comes last!
Yes, Recycling is better than throwing away, but its the last option, its not a solution. We must rather think: Do I actually need this? Is there not a better alternative out there? Before we say: we recycle so I can use as much plastic as I want.
The only and best choice against using oil and against producing new plastic and trash, is avoiding plastic as much as possible! At least stop using the single use plastics. Spoons, forks, straws, bags, to go coffee cups and plastic cups, take your reusable bag for groceries.
Travel and recycling:
This is another problem. The waste management is so different from country to country, in bigger countries even from state to state. Most tourists from countries where they don't have bottle deposit just throw bottles away in countries where they have the deposit, because they don't know better and are not looking for information. Tourists in Asia don´t know or don´t want to know that the waste will end in landfills close to the ocean or just get burned a few meters from their beach bungalow or get burned on an island close by.
(Tips for a more sustainable holiday: "10 ways how to be more zero waste on an island")
When I travel, I always ask my hosts (or I google), if they have recycling, how I can recycle. Some are really helpful, some don´t even know that you can recycle, some places dont' provide recycling bins even though they have municipal recycling.
So if you try to avoid a lot of wrapping but you still have a little bit of waste happening, get yourself informed about how the country your traveling through or the state your moving to, is handling the waste and recycling management.
At the moment I am in Canada, trying to find out what I can put into the recycling bin.
In Germany we have a bag for plastic and cans, a bin for paper/carton, a bin for compost and a mixed bin. Glass is always collected and taken out to glass recycling bins. Plastic bottles are deposit bottles and are not ending in our private recycling bins.
Here in Canada/Toronto theres one bin for mixed waste, one for compost and one for recycling. I checked and the blue bin is for glass, tetra packs, carton/paper, plastic bottles, soft plastics, cans.
So always remember: new country, different language, different food, different mentality, different waste management!
Tell me in the comments: are you recycling? do you actually know what or if you can recycle in your city? Have you ever tried to contact your recycling company to know what you can recycle?
Tomorrow I will visit Terra Cycle Canada here in Toronto. What they do? Read about that in my next Blog Post!
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Hi my name is Jule
I am a nature and ocean lover. A passionate runner and minimalistic traveller. On this blog I share my experiences, thoughts and ideas about the "sustainable lifestyle" and how you can stick to this while traveling.
You like what I share? If yes, feel free to buy me a coffee <3