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Why does recycling matter?

Recycling diverts waste from landfills and extends the lifecycle of a product. Rather than sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years, a product can be turned into something new and given new life. This also reduces the need to use new materials which may be accomplished through unsustainable practices and can be emissions-intensive and natural resource-heavy. Eliminating the need to mine or harvest, transport, and process new materials to create a product can help reduce the environmental impact of a product and your own carbon footprint.

In 2018, 292.4 million tons (U.S. short tons) of municipal solid waste (MSW) was generated and about 69 million tons of it was recycled. Combined with the 25 million tons composted, 32.1% of generated MSW in 2018 was diverted from landfills through recycling and composting. Of the recycled material, paper and paperboard accounted for 67% of it. Check out more national facts and figures from the EPA here

By now we’ve probably all heard about the problems of plastic from its emissions to its long lifespan in the landfill graveyard. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 400 million tonnes (metric) of plastic waste is generated every year globally. Globally, seven billion tonnes of plastic has been generated and only 10% of it has been recycled. What happens to the rest of it? It may end up as litter or sent to different locations to be burned or dumped. It is estimated that 75-199 million tonnes of plastic are currently in our oceans and a projected increase from 14 million tonnes per year in 2016 to 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040 will add to it if we don’t change our habits. Learn more from UNEP here

Maybe you’ve caught wind of a recent study that found the U.S. only recycled 5% of plastic waste in 2019. With a rate so low, you may be wondering why you bother to recycle at all. While that number is staggeringly low, there are other things that are being recycled, like for 2018 data the EPA reported a 68.2% recycling rate for paper and paperboard. Diverting waste from landfills, while rates both globally and nationally may not be particularly impressive, is still helping reduce emissions. Supporting recycling efforts, facilities, and legislation can help improve recycling rates and regulations for plastic production and use. 

What can we do?

  • Reduce the amount of single-use items and packaging that we use and pay attention to what materials we buy. 
    • Did you know you can bring your own containers to buy from bulk bins to eliminate packaging? 
  • Buy products that will last a long time or ones made from recycled materials.
  • Ask companies to reduce their packaging and find sustainable alternatives. 
  • Support local recycling facility funding and vote for recycling measures. 
  • Get involved with local river and lake cleanups. Check out the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council river clean-up that happened over the summer!   

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