In the sixty or so years that plastic has been mass produced, it has become one of the biggest sources of waste pollution, generating about 35 million tons of garbage a year. Only about a tenth of this staggering amount ends up being properly recycled though. The rest of the plastics and other recyclable materials ends up littering poorer countries, polluting oceans or piling up in American landfills. Moreover, according to The Guardian, despite only accounting for 4% of the global population, the United States produces 12% of solid waste in the world – and only 35% of this waste gets recycled.
Recycling programs vary depending on where you live, but no matter what rules dictate your recycling, forbidden items that end up contaminating an entire load can force it to be rejected to a landfill. Our trash used to be sent to China for disposal, but the country set a new mandate in 2017, rejecting any load that is more than 0.5% impure. Before 2017, China and Hong Kong imported about half of the United States’ plastic waste meant for recycling. Since this waste was often loaded with unrecyclable materials, the American trash usually ended up in Chinese landfills, which prompted the stricter purity level.
Decreasing the waste that ends up in our oceans, backyards and in developing countries starts with proper recycling practices in our own home. Recycling is picked up on the same day as regular trash. Items are usually marked with a number (between one and seven) in the middle of the three-arrow recycling symbol as a code for what the product is made of. The West Chester Borough outlines its recycling program online, detailing what can and cannot be recycled and how to discard electronics and other difficult items, like ink cartridges and batteries.
The following items CAN be put into your blue recycling bin to be properly recycled:
- Aluminum beverage cans
- Glass bottles and jars (rinsed out)
- Clean aluminum foil and take out containers
- Empty aerosol cans
- Mixed paper (e.g. newspaper, junk mail, office paper, etc.)
- Rigid plastic containers, bottles, & jugs #1-7 (no styrofoam or plastic bags)
- Steel food and beverage cans
- Beverage and food cartons (e.g. milk, juice boxes, soup cartons, etc.)
- If it is not listed here, odds are that the item can not be recycled in West Chester. Also, food containers need to be rinsed out enough so that food scraps and liquids are not recycled with the container since they can contaminate a load.
The following items CANNOT be recycled in the West Chester Borough
- Any plastics that are not labeled 1-7 (e.g.: children’s toys)
- Plastic bags
- Polystyrene (i.e. Styrofoam)
- Pizza boxes contaminated with food/grease. You can remove the top portion of the box if it is not contaminated and place it in your bin. The bottom portion should be placed in your trash can.
- Waxed cardboard (e.g. frozen food packaging, coffee cups, etc.)
- Hazardous Materials (e.g. paint, fluorescent bulbs, motor oil bottles, etc.)
- If everyone in West Chester followed this program, 100% of our recycled waste would be properly discarded. It is very easy to toss something in the recycling bin without a second thought, but that action could end up contaminating an entire truck load of waste meant for recycling. Conscious, informed discarding of trash could be monumental in decreasing ocean pollution and landfills. Of course the best way to decrease the amount of trash that gets discarded is to limit the trash that you create yourself. Buy less, donate used items and repurpose old ones so that there is less waste that has to be disposed of. Also be aware of what packaging your products come in. The decomposition process can vary greatly depending on the material. Styrofoam never decomposes while paper takes about four to six weeks. Even though glass can take about one million years to decompose, it is actually better for the environment than plastic (which takes about 500 years for decomposition) since glass does not release any toxic chemicals with it.
Maria Marabito is a third year English major with a minor in literature and diverse cultures. MM883631@wcupa.edu.