A few weeks ago, I posted 3 Reasons to Upcycle, which, if you haven't yet, you can read here. Today, I bring you 3 More Reasons to Upcycle.
Disclaimer: These reasons are not as lighthearted and uplifting, but they're just as important, if not more so. Please be warned that you may find some of the images to be disturbing.
1) Your recycling doesn't always get recycled
This one tends to catch people by surprise. We operate in such an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality when it comes to post-consumer waste, that we don't think about where our things go once they've been thrown out. What happens to that milk carton once it's hauled away by the recyclers? Is this plastic bottle going to be used to create a new bottle or end up in the ocean? Our relationship with China, where most of our recycling goes, only adds to the uncertainty.
Last year, China implemented Operation Green Fence to help tackle the contamination coming from US recycling. We were sending bales of recyclables mixed with garbage and hazardous waste, including used syringes (yikes). In order to protect their workers and curb pollution, China turned away recycling shipments that had a 1.5% or more contamination rate. This effectively meant that China wasn't accepting any bales from the United States, where Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) operate with a 10% threshold for contamination.
Storing the bales was one of the least cost-effective solutions, so waste corporations began looking at other options. And most of these options included finding another developing country to take our waste, regardless of the state of their waste and recycling infrastructure. So, who knows if our recyclables are actually being recycled?
While Operation Green Fence has officially ended, the recycling industry is forever changed by it--China's standards are still more stringent than before and the United States now realizes that our own waste infrastructure needs improvement.
Purchasing better sorting machines for the MRFs and hiring more manpower is expensive and not an immediate answer. The cheapest and easiest solution truly starts with the average citizen. First, if you don't need it, don't buy it (reduce!). Second, if you have it, use it again (reuse!). Using something again saves both energy and money, which is why we're such fans of upcycling. And if you need to throw something away, be sure to sort and separate your recyclables from your landfill waste. Please and thank you.
2) Lowering your landfill footprint
Here's a statistic for you: The average person contributes 1.5 tons of waste to landfills each year--that is the same weight as the heaviest of our even-toed ungulates (AKA the hippopotamus--hopefully this comes in handy the next time you go to pub trivia). Over your lifetime, you're essentially leaving a landfill footprint of about 100 tons, the same weight as a blue whale. There are over 7 billion of us living on this blue green planet, and that's a lot of garbage we're piling on top of it.
(An actual 100 ton garbage island. This is not the kind of mark I want to leave on the world.)
3) Lowering your overall footprint
But a lot of your garbage isn't making it to the landfill or the recycling plant--a lot of it is clogging up our oceans and waterways and contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And when they mistake plastic bits for food, our birds and marine life suffer.
According to the EPA, our landfills in the United States are the 4th largest producer of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's contributing to climate change. So, not only does our garbage impact localized natural habitats, it's affecting everything on our planet, pole to pole.
When you combine this with the energy and natural resources saved by not producing brand new goods--like coal-sourced electricity, trees, fossil fuels, and metals extracted from the earth--by upcycling and reusing what you have, you're really doing the planet, and everyone who lives on it, a solid.