Why You Should Stop Recycling

"Wait, I thought we should recycle to help the planet (and feel less guilty)?"

Yes you should recycle as much as you can but by "why you should stop recycling" I mean "why you should start reducing". The title of this article has probably made you wonder what the heck I am thinking. Recycling is great, reducing is better. Let me explain what I insinuate.

In Europe only 30% of plastic waste is recycled, that number goes down to 9% in the USA and not more plastic are recycled if no one buys it. What you need to understand is that what you put in the recycle bins is actually not fully recycled. There is still a huge part of it that goes to the landfill or is incinerated. When going to landfills, trashes produce methane, an extremely polluting greenhouse gas. When incinerating, their smoke produce toxic gases which pollute the air and the surrounding environment. Finally, mismanaged waste can end up in the oceans destroying the marine ecosystem, and guess what... we eat fish that contain micro-plastics! Now you are starting to understand the "recycling vs. reducing" argument.

Recycling has become a great solution in the past decades to reduce waste and the production from virgin materials. When a product is made of recycled material rather than a raw one, both energy and natural resources are saved. By recycling paper, can, glass etc... an impressive amount of energy can be saved. For example, one ton of recycled office paper can save up to 9 barrels of oil, 7000 gallons of water and 3.3 cubic yards in the landfill. One ton of plastic recycling can save up to 16.3 barrels of oil and 30 cubic yards in the landfill! You can find more numbers here.

You might think that recycling is not that bad after all, but there are negative aspects as well. Although materials like steel and glass can easily be recycled for a low cost, not all materials are indefinitely recyclable. Indeed, plastic degrades every time it is recycled, meaning that fossil oils will be needed to manufacture new products. Plus, energy will always be needed to transform those materials into something new.

The best solution to fight against excessive waste and save energy is to reduce. Recycling is great but what if you could avoid that step? Earth would be happy. Refusing, reducing and reusing are key behaviors to create change.

Here are some easy examples you can start to take tomorrow:

  • Refusing: avoid single use-plastics, straws, try not to buy harmful products

  • Reducing: bring your own jars and bags at shops/restaurants, shop at bulk stores, buy bar soaps, do not buy the last technology gadget, start a composter at home

  • Reusing: buy second-hand clothes instead of new ones, use a reusable cup, give a second life to your (grand)parents' furnitures, use cardboards to create storage boxes

Recycling has always been a common sense since industrialization and is nowadays a hot topic because of the environmental crisis. Even though more and more investments are poured into waste treatment, the fact that recycling is more expensive than dumping is still a borderline for many countries. However we can all start reducing our waste to avoid more rubbish and the production from virgin materials. By 2050 it is said to be that more plastic will be in the ocean than fish, so let's reduce!

Jeanne Ebendinger

Founder of Pygoscelis

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