A local municipality was recently put on probation by the company hired to handle its recycling materials due to the garbage in the recycling containers. Recycling is a critical component of managing the high level of waste generated in modern living. While more materials are recycled now than at any previous time, much of our waste cannot be recycled. Plastic bags and films/wraps cannot be put in a mixed recycling bin; however, many grocery stores or special recycling programs collect these plastics in separate collections. Everyday items that are not currently recyclable include Styrofoam, plastic straws and utensils, greasy food boxes, plastic shower curtains, bubble wrap, and electronics. It is essential to follow the guidelines of your recycling company.
Every day in the United States, an average of nearly 5 pounds of garbage/person is generated. In the breakdown of daily waste, according to the US EPA, about 1.2 pounds is recycled, 0.4 pounds is composted, and about 0.3 pounds of food waste is managed in other ways. The recycling of paper products has improved over the past decades; in 2000, 43% of paper was recycled in the US, and today 68% is recycled. The most significant waste material, plastic, was recycled at a rate of 6% in 2000 and has only improved to a current rate of 9% (US). Other countries are recovering and recycling plastic much more effectively. Germany recycles 56% of its recyclable plastic materials, and Austria and South Korea recycle 54% of this plastic.
International organizations analyzing and promoting solutions to the world’s massive waste problem emphasize that increased, proper recycling of materials is only one part of the way forward. Other requirements include significant reductions in the consumption of throwaway materials, reusable products whenever possible, and the elimination of unnecessary packaging. Efforts are underway to establish more effective recycling of plastics and create more sustainable materials. In the meantime, it is good to take note of personal waste production and look for ways to reduce it. “We do need to slow down and look at reality differently, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” Laudato Si, 114.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.