To Recycle or Not to Recycle
I loved the movie WALL-E. I thought it was exceptionally well done, especially how the machines never needed to speak. Their sounds and motions expressed everything. And the visuals were, of course, spectacular. But the premise of the movie is the population had to leave the planet because they had created too much waste. They never thought to figure out how to change their ways and reduce their waste. Instead, they spent all their energy figuring out how to leave the planet and live in space. The robot Eve was supposed to determine if life had come back to the planet after hundreds of years without humans.
The adventures of WALL-E and Eve experience in their attempts to save the proof that life had returned are both entertaining and heartwarming. However, even as the population returned to Earth, all I could think about was the waste was still there, blocking streets and whole cities with its mass. Still leaching chemicals into the ground.
Now, WALL-E is a happy movie for kids. There are many documentaries that deal with the serious issues of waste and pollution. The Story of Stuff is an excellent reference. But it's the kids that are going to have to deal with our waste and pollution. They need to know how to change things now before it is too late.
The Three R's
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is a term coined in the mid 70's to address the popular movement to clean up the environment. Yes, it began way back then. My parents started recycling around this time. Every week my father would collect the newspapers, tie them in string and put them out with the garbage. Only newspapers, nothing else.
We have come a long way from those days. After paper came aluminum cans, then plastic bottles. Then eventually plastic containers. What we can put in those happy blue boxes continues to expand but so does the confusion of what can be recycled and what can't.
Glass yes. Paper, yes. Aluminum cans, yes. Cardboard, yes. But what about all that plastic. Most people are aware of those numbered triangles printed on the bottom of most plastic containers. Most don't know what they mean. Here is a simple breakdown. (Excerpt from the book, Ecoholic Home, by Adria Vasil).
Soda bottles, shampoo bottles, water bottles. Has "fewer" harmful additives that will leach into landfills and your meal. (PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate).
Milk jugs, cleaning product bottles, shopping bags. Compared to others, not a "bad" plastic. (HDPE or High-Density Polyethylene).
Plumbing pipes, vinyl records, fake leather couches. "The biggest eco-villain of all plastics. Made with vinyl chloride, a know human carcinogen. Rarely recycled". (PVC or Polycinyl Chloride).
Food trays, six pack rings, packaging for computer parts. Like HDPE, less toxic but rarely recycled. (LDPE or Low-Density Polyethylene).
Packaging, ropes, carpets, laboratory equipment. Considered one of the safest plastics but not recyclable in every municipality. (Polypropylene or PP).
Styrofoam - Second worst, seldom recycled. (Polystyrene or PS)
Baby bottles, hard plastic water bottles, car parts. Any other plastic other than 1-6. Anything that can't be reused or recycled. (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)
What you should and shouldn't be put in your recycle bin depends on your municipality. We happen to live in a place that will take everything from 1-7 but that doesn't mean it is recycled. It means that they are collecting it and sorting it to keep the bad things out of land fills. This is very fine thing and I applaud Haldimand County for doing this.
If you are confused about what should be put in the bin, take a moment and look up your area's recycling program online. We get a nifty pamphlet in the mail which helps a lot because they delve into what you are supposed to do with all those other things like paint cans, plastic flower trays, plastic bags, batteries, lightbulbs, electronics and broken glass. There is also an app called Recycle Coach for North America that can guide you for your specific area. I learned quite a bit from it.
Bottom line is that even though my municipality picks up so many things, only a portion of the plastic items can actually be recycled. It is good that the plastic is kept out of landfills but horrible that it was made in the first place. If your area doesn't pick up the non-recyclables, find out online how you can dispose of them properly. There is always a transfer station nearby.
Recycling is better than throwing everything into the dump but it is not a panacea. The Rs have now been expanded to include Reuse and Rethink. In some circles, the R's have been transformed into Refuse, Reduce, Repair, Re-gift and Recover.
These days it is almost impossible to avoid things that are either made of plastic or packaged in plastic. Our efforts need to be put into pushing for reduced packaging and plastic alternatives.
In addition, we need to start changing how we consume products. Awareness is the first step to changing one's behaviour. From there it is about spreading the word. If we don't push for change we might just continue down that road to WALL-E's world. And that's not what we want for the children.