Recycling Plastic Is Great, But Not as Great as Avoiding Plastic in the First Place

The issue of plastic pollution has turned into what some would call an environmental crisis. In the last couple of years, we’ve learned that the plastic in the world’s oceans will weigh more than the ocean’s fish by 2050, and microscopic plastic particles have quickly been working their way into our water supply. In fact, it’s estimated that over 90 percent of U.S. tap water contains microplastics, and we don’t yet know what the health effects of this are.

Many corporations have been responding to plastic pollution by making pledges to transition away from disposable plastics in favor of recyclable plastics. For instance, this past summer, Starbucks announced that it will phase out plastic straws by 2020, and will replace them with a recyclable sippy cup lid similar to other single-use coffee lids.

But is it enough to switch to recyclable plastic? Unfortunately, it isn’t. The world is struggling to recycle all of the plastic that we currently have. A lot of plastic that is considered “recyclable” still ends up in the landfill.

Now that China is no longer accepting the bulk of U.S. plastic waste, Americans are being forced to address the realities of so-called “recyclable” plastic at home. Fewer plastics are being collected for recycling nationwide. As it turns out, the new Starbucks lid may not be recyclable in most areas after all.

Ultimately, this doesn’t change how important it is to recycle plastic. In fact, we should recycle all the plastic we possibly can, at all times. We don’t want valuable materials ending up in the landfill, and we don’t want to create more plastic than we need.

But even though recycling is great, it isn’t enough on its own. It would be even better if we could learn to reduce the plastic we’re using in the first place. By avoiding unnecessary consumption and switching to reusable materials, we can take a lot of pressure off of landfills and recycling centers.

Try to avoid single-use plastics as much as possible, and use only plastics that can be recycled locally. The less plastic we use, the less we need to recycle — and the less we’ll pollute our environment.

Learn more about what plastics we recycle in Truckee.