The Truth About Recycling

Wolfe Rygaard

That tasty drink was good while it lasted, but now all that’s left is an empty plastic cup. Thankful for the memories, you get up and make your way toward the trash can. Seeing a variety of options, a small dilemma arises. Do you take the lazy road and throw your cup in the trash, or do you do right by the environment and put your cup in the recycling bin? Choosing the latter brings about a small bit of joy because you understand the importance of recycling. Little do you know, the destination of that plastic cup remains the same regardless of your choice.

The process of recycling, on a large scale, is money-dependent. Money invested in machines that use magnets, electric currents, and infrared lasers to sort materials needs to be recouped from the sale of recycled raw materials. This process of producing a recycled product that is more valuable than the original, known as upcycling, can have a significant environmental impact when undertaken by a large corporation. Alchemy Goods does just that by making stylish purses, wallets, and other accessories from recycled materials. For example, this backpack is made from salvaged black jean denim and recycled bicycle tubes.

However, the reduction of CO2 emissions and ocean-bound plastic is driven by financial incentives. The more common case of recycling is downcycling. The opposite of upcycling, downcycling results in a product that is of lower quality than the original. Recycled paper, for example, diminishes after each cycle. Eventually, usually around the fifth cycle, the paper loses its essential qualities like length and fiber strength.

With nothing to gain financially, will a company carry the burden of recycling for the sake of the environment? Shockingly, the answer is “No”. The preferred method in the United States involved shipping trash, such as plastic, overseas. China was one such country that welcomed the world’s trash in order to make marginal profits through recycling. However, receiving 70% of the world's plastic, about 7 million tons a year, led to a pollution crisis which ultimately caused China to ban the future import of devalued recyclable waste. With so much waste, and nowhere to send it, the United States has since turned to incineration. Under the guise of waste-to-energy, over 60% of recyclable materials are torched. The truth of the matter is that the amount of energy conserved by recycling surpasses the amount of electricity generated by waste-to-energy incineration, but incineration is cheaper so it is preferred.

Thankfully, we are not at the mercy of companies when it comes to recycling. You can support businesses that do recycle, such as Alchemy Goods, by purchasing from their stores or spreading the word about their eco-friendly practices. With a little creativity, you’ll find that there are a number of things in your own home that you can recycle. Whether it’s turning old light bulbs into flower vases or reusing that holiday wrapping paper, you’ll soon see that we can change the world with our own two hands.


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I am an environmental scientist who currently resides in Puerto Rico. I’m also passionate about basketball and Tottenham Hotspur.

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