Does Recycling Really Make a Difference?

What can be recycled

Recycling is Dead, yeah I said it.  And I’m not alone, Patagonia recently created a video which can be seen below showing the truth about the plastic recycling process.

Recycling is Broken

Recycling Is Broken. Now What? pat.ag/RecyclingIsBroken

Posted by Patagonia on Monday, September 9, 2019

Sorting and recycling takes a ton of energy output and might not be the best long term solution for disposing of unwanted goods. So what now?

Aspen Recycling Center Bans Plastic Recycling

When you think of green communities, perhaps ski towns come to mind.  Clean air; check, clean water; check and not much trash.  So what does it say when the Rio Grande Recycling Center that handles recycling for the town of Aspen decides to no longer accept plastic or paper for recycling.

Taos Recycling Center Bans Glass Recycling

What about recycling glass? The Taos Recycling Center decided to stop accepting glass recycling as of September 1st. Why do you ask?  It takes time, money and offers little to no revenue to recycle glass. Seems ironic for a community with a plethora of Earthships built using recycled glass bottles to ban such an item from their local recycling center.

Odds are your local recycling center will follow suit by limiting if not stopping their recycling program altogether.

How Does Recycling Work in the US?

The business of selling trash may no longer be financially viable to your local community. Aspen and Taos have figured this out as has big cities around the country including Philadelphia which takes its recycled goods and instead burns them for energy while Indianapolis now charges $99 a year to recycle.

Recycling may actually end up costing your community more money than it receives. Did you know that most recycling is sorted by hand before going through the plastic recycling machines?   Not only is this a time consuming labor-intensive job it’s also extremely hazardous to the employees at the recycling centers. Contaminants in the recycled stream need to first be removed before recycled goods can be packaged for sale.

If you thought your local recycling center was in business to make your community greener, think again.  Recycling centers operate to make a profit. Some are funded by dump fees while others operate on revenue from selling recyclable materials.

The Economics of Recycling by Floy Lilley

(Take the time to watch this 26-minute video, it’s a real eye-opener…)

India Plastic Ban

The country of India, of all places, is setting the bar for getting rid of plastics altogether. As of October 2nd, 2019 India is banning plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets.

“The ban will be comprehensive and will cover manufacturing, usage, and import of such items,” one official said.  According to Reuters.

And BOOM – There goes recycling.

Plastic Disposal Alternatives

What’s next?  Do we simply throw everything we don’t want to use anymore into a landfill?  Even plastics marked with a fancy clip art plastic recycling symbols? Or do we DEMAND retailers stop selling items in single-use containers?

Developing countries have started to realize plastic is toxic and they no longer want it imported. The trickle-down effect is driving demand down, while endless supplies of trash-cyclables continue to grow on land and on water.

Over the years I wondered a few things about Patagonia. First, why does a brand with a message about saving the planet send all their goods to consumers via plastic bags?  Patagonia ought to know better, right?

Turns out they do. Patagonia was able to eliminate using plastic bags to ship their products a few years back.  But it didn’t work.  30% of the items were returned to Patagonia as being damaged in shipping. Carbon vs plastic, which is worse? Patagonia chose the later.

“Sustainable manufacturing is an oxymoron” – Yvon Chouinard, founder Patagonia. Patagonia gets it, as a brand they know that they aren’t perfect, actually far from it.

Outdoor Industry Toxicity

At the Outdoor Retailer Winter show in January of 2019, Patagonia’s booth talked about recycling, in fact, the entire Patagonia winter outerwear line was being made of 100% recycled plastic bottles.

Fast forward to the summer Outdoor Retailer trade show a few months later in June and Patagonia’s booth had ZERO mention of the brands use of recycled materials.

Other brands in the outdoor space have started to market their use of recycled bottles too. Perhaps a little late in the game?  One company though truly stands out. United By Blue.

The apparel company United By Blue is fed up with plastic trash ending in the ocean and decided to take action.  By World Oceans Day 2020, United By Blue will eliminate ALL PLASTIC from their waste stream including plastic poly bags, plastic swift tags, plastic bubble wrap sleeves, plastic trim bags and more.

In the past, I “tried” to give out awards to brands for being green at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow.  It was painful to find products on the show floor that were green. It was even harder to find brands with transparency showing they were not creating a ton of waste.

So I stopped giving environmental friendly awards out as it felt like we were forcing something that wasn’t really there.

Changing the Consumer

When consumers start demanding their favorite stores, brands and retailers stop using plastic, then change will happen. Patagonia by 2025 has a goal of only using recycled and renewable materials (natural material like wool or organic cotton) in their entire product line.   Yvon has hinted about Patagonia’s exploration into new plant-based plastic materials for the future.

How about reusing your goods, passing them down to the next generation the way we previously did with ski gear instead. Consider donating them to someone in need, a thrift store in your community perhaps. Everything has a second life,  your old clothes can be used as rags, paper can be used for scrap and so forth.

Better yet, instead of focusing on recycling and reusing goods, is it possible for us to buy less moving forward?

Think of it this way,  if you had to bury all your trash in your backyard, would you consume less?  The earth is actually a part of all of our backyards…

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About the Author

Mike Hardaker
Mike Hardaker grew up surfing and snowboarding in Orange County and followed his love of surfing to Hawaii before eventually moving to the mountains to concentrate on snowboarding. When not on a board, Mike worked for Snowboarder and later oversaw TGR's online publication. He went on to found Mountain Weekly News where he is still CEO and Editor in Chief. Mike spends most of his time splitboarding in the winter months and backpacking throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the summer.

2 Comments on "Does Recycling Really Make a Difference?"

  1. Hard reading Mike… We are, with our normal activities, such a blight on the world.. Our oceans and air filled with plastics, and our energy use is cooking our one and only planet.. I’ve had such good for recycling, now to find it questionably at best..

    • Denny,

      Thanks for the comment. I was talking with a friend about how as kids we used to make a ton of money recycling. It felt like we were doing a good thing and getting candy money was an added bonus. I still am using the sleeping pad you gave me, turns out it works 1000 times better than all the “new” pads I have tested as of late. As my mechanic used to say “new does not mean better”…

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