What The Recycling Crisis Means

You May Need To Stop Recycling

Local recycling programs are coming to an end and that is spelling disaster for our world.

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At the beginning of last year, China stopped accepting a large amount of the recycling imports that they used to. What does this mean for us? Since the early '90s, China has been buying up recyclable materials from countries around the world and has been using cheap labor to sort the recycled material and then use the plastics to make cheap exports as a way to bring more money into the country.

However, over the past nearly 2 decades, this process has contributed large amounts of pollution to the country. This dangerous pollution is what has forced the country to cut back on their recycling programs. There was a large number of non-recyclable materials making their way overseas and to these plants. Since the plants cannot make any money off of these products, they began to get mad at the number of non-recyclables they had. Other non-recyclables also made their way to water streams and local canyons, adding more pollution to the country.

With the U.S. no longer able to ship their recycled trash to China, they began looking elsewhere. For a while, the U.S. relied on other eastern countries, like Malaysia and Thailand, but those countries have also cut back on the number of exports they receive.

This is what has led to the current recycling crisis here in the United States. This crisis has been widespread and dramatic, but most citizens are just now hearing of its effects. Many states are having to pay for their recycling plants to keep running, something that once brought them profit as Chinese companies were paying them for their plastic. Some states just don't have the money to keep their plants running and have started to dump people's curbside recycling into landfills with regular garbage. Most states have had to remove mixed paper and plastics from their lists of recyclable materials. This list shows how each state is being affected and what can or is being done to help fix it.

The major problem with this crisis, and what has really led to it being a crisis is how long states and counties tried to hide it from citizens. For example, in Alabama, one of the largest collectors of recyclables, Tarpon Paper, had stopped accepting recyclables because they were not able to sell it and turn a profit, however, citizens were not aware that, for nearly nine months, their recycling had been taken to the landfill.

Many other cities have been doing the same thing and there have even been stories of companies hoarding plastics in warehouses until they can figure out what to do with it.

Here's the big question a lot of people are asking: how can we help?

There is a lot you can do to help this crisis. The first is to figure out if your curbside recycling program is still functioning and whether or not it is properly functioning. Next is to figure out what you can and should actually recycle. There are a lot of things that people hope they can recycle that they actually can't. this includes cardboard boxes that are wrapped in plastic, or plastic shopping bags that tend to wreak havoc on the machinery used in recycling plants.

The biggest thing you can do though is to cut back on the number of materials you use. I know it is said a lot but buying a reusable water bottle is probably the easiest way you can make a big change. It will cut down on the number of plastic bottles you use as well as a number of other single-use items. Taking a reusable water bottle to the gas station will not only reduce the amount of plastic and styrofoam cups that are used but also give you a discount. The same can be said if you bring a reusable travel mug to places like Dunkin'.

Another way is to shop at bring-your-own-container stores. They are few and far between, but can usually be found in bigger and more modern cities. If there's one near you, try checking it out. If there isn't, make sure to bring your own bags to the grocery store. While you can't exactly avoid the packaging of some products, you can avoid the plastic bags at the checkout.

Recycling doesn't stop at grocery shopping, many clothing brands are also starting to jump on the wave and are introducing clothing lines that are made from recycled textiles. Again, these may be harder to find and a bit pricier, but shopping at thrift stores or buying secondhand clothing is also a great way to reduce the number of textiles to go to waste.

The hardest things to avoid are the packaging that our everyday items come in. This is not determined by the consumer but by the corporation. The best way to combat this is to demand change. Let companies know that they can not continue to produce harmful plastic waste without consequence. Demand change.

While every little thing someone does makes a difference, the biggest thing you can do is educate yourself. Make sure to pay attention to what is going on with your local communities and the world around you and make sure you know how you can do your part to help.

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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Being Sustainable Is Hard But It's Not Impossible

Although we've all heard of climate change and have witnessed the disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment, it still seems like most people are not subscribing to the ideals of sustainability.

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Sustainability is a tricky term. Most people that hear about it eventually put in the back of their minds, the same place they put "student loans" and "crippling depression." Most people know that to adhere to this ideal would mean to change how they live.

Sustainability is about adopting behaviors and systems that will ensure that the Earth is around for many generations after ours. Sustainability aims to preserve the Earth in terms of seven generations ahead. Seven generations after ours and societies on Earth will be using entirely different systems than what we do now, therefore, we should start this process now to ensure that they will be able to live comfortably and sustainably.

This is where most people tune out, understandably so. It's hard for us to think about the implications of our actions and how they will affect life on Earth much after our own deaths. It suddenly seems like an incomprehensible problem that no one person can ever solve.

"My actions won't make a difference," most people say, convinced that just because they stop eating meat or buying plastic or start drinking from paper straws, that nothing will change. However, what they fail to consider is how their actions will influence the minds of others around them, and one person who stops eating meat or using plastic sends a ripple effect through the people surrounding them. One person making lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability leads others to suddenly consider, "maybe I should eat less meat?" or "maybe I won't use single-use plastics anymore?"

The idea is not that any one person picking up plastic on the beach is going to save the planet, but rather that through education and awareness, we will all take small steps to preserve our home. Large groups of people all taking small steps leads to big changes, and politics and the economy will follow the demand of the people.

The most difficult thing for most people to do is to adopt those small behavioral changes. Not everyone can afford to stop eating meat, but everyone can afford to opt out of single-use plastics. Buying a personal water bottle is one easy way to do this. Stop buying plastic water bottles just to throw them away. If you need to buy them, make sure to recycle them. Instead of taking plastic silverware and straws from restaurants, bring your own reusable set.

Understandably, most of you are already cringing. It's hard to go against the grain and commit to living a plastic-free lifestyle for the sake of sustainability. And what about when you go to Chipotle with your zero-waste kit and somebody asks you a question about why you have that? Fear or convincing themselves that it's "inconvenient" will keep most of you from adopting these little changes that, over time, make a huge difference in the amount of plastic we put in our oceans.

Although we can't all be leaders of huge sustainability efforts to clean our oceans or buy an electric car, we can all make small changes to mitigate this tragic problem. On our current track, the last half of our lives will be starkly different from the first half, for the worse. Educate yourself and be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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