Why Recycling Isn’t Enough

Why Recycling Isn’t Enough

Recycling in the US typically operates in a single stream system meaning all recyclable items are placed in one bin to be picked up then sorted in a recycling center. These systems are easily and often contaminated with unrecycleable items, but increase participation because they are easier on the consumer. Towns pay for these materials to be transported to regional facilities where recycled products are sorted by quality and sold to buyers, often across an ocean. The materials are then processed so they can be made into new products. No longer wanting to be the world’s landfill, China banned imports of most US scrap materials in 2018. Smaller developing countries are picking up the slack but with little regulation in place local environments and workers are suffering in dangerous working conditions & exposure to toxic chemicals. 

Recycling in Jackson isn’t single stream and requires more labor and commitment from the consumer. This discourages participation but results in a higher quality product. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency “food and food packaging materials make up almost half of all municipal solid waste”. Our rural location means we can’t recycle a large portion of the packaging we use frequently. This includes commonly used items such as salad containers, cereal boxes, and takeout containers. Even though we are able to generate a relatively high quality recycled product for purchase many items are still thrown away. But we all know there is no away. 

Unfortunately, up to 25% of American plastics sent abroad were too contaminated to be recycled. Recycling doesn’t work if it is more profitable to produce goods from virgin materials than recycled ones.  Due to contamination, low demand & high production costs, recycledables in the US aren’t profitable. With the logistics and economics of recycling broken we have to set up a new system to operate within. 

Overconsumption of goods plays a major role in the waste we create. This narrative of consumption relies heavily on the idea that most products can easily and effectively be recycled removing any guilt a consumer may have. Even if recycling systems were functional and profitable, they can’t keep up with demand. 

Avant can help ease the burden on the recycling system by creating products meant to be reused and setting up community wide systems to make reuse the norm. Products should be recycled after many uses, not just one. If we can reduce how much waste we produce it would greatly decrease the burden we put on the recycling system and our planet's finite resources. 

The reuse model has met resistance because it requires a change in consumer behavior. Instead of putting the burden on the consumer, Avant’s solution is to set up a system for the consumer to operate within. Avant reduces the need for disposable packaging by creating a community wide network of reusable packaging with the goal of reducing waste in your community.  Avant offers grocery staples in reusable packaging on our website and reusable packaging with restaurants and coffee shops in your community. Since the goal of zero waste is far from a reality, including Reduce and Reuse in addition to Recycling is a great place to start. 

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