When I decided to become a zero waster I figured it would be a snap. I thought I could just Recycle as much as possible and still live the same lifestyle. It made me feel better to know that I would be putting something in the bin with the promise of reuse rather then sending it straight to the landfill. Honestly, I didn’t know much about recycling or what any of the numbers even meant. I was assured and confident that if it had the triangle symbol of it then I was doing the world some good.
But are we doing any good if we still continue to buy into this plastic packaging industry? If we want to stop something the quickest way is to stop the demand for it. If we still continue to indulge in the plastic world then we still create the demand for those products and they still continue to be produced. I hadn’t even considered this, nor did I consider the plastic things that I bought and consumed at alarming rates would never be reused as the same product.
Also, I had no clue what the numbers on the bottom even met, nor did I feel it was useful when I started to look up what they meant. So what do those little guys mean?
1: Polyethylene terephthalate; recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece
2: High Density Polyethylene; recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles
3: Vinyl; recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.
4: Low density Polyethylene; recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes
5: Polypropylene; recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bycycle racks.
6: Polystyrene; recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.
7: Other, Misc; recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.
See article on plastic recycling for more information on recycling and the numbers.
These numbers are actually quite alarming, A little research goes to show that at best these plastics are used twice. While that may be better than sending them to a landfill that still isn’t a long life for something that sits on the earth and clogs the lands with disgusting single use items. The absolute best thing on this list is number 1 because those things at least are used for a longer amount of time but then again that is one of the least safe plastics according to various sites. In reality it’s a no win situation, and recycling can seem very daunting and altogether pointless.
Recycling can also have a negative impact as well, causing more gases to be released in the process or creating toxins through oil refinement. (See list of negative impacts here for more info) As well as not being as effective as proclaimed, and false hope to those who think recycling is the best option. A lot of plastics can’t be recycled anyways, and contamination still gets around with this method. Recycling, in truth is not the end all be all that people (and society) has made it out to be.
So then is recycling pointless and worthless as a zero waster? Not necessarily, but in reality we need to be smart about what goes in the bin. Plastic is not an infinite recyclable, aluminum and metal however are labeled as infinite. Glass is also infinite.Paper is recyclable up to 5-7 times, but it is also biodegradable so it can be composted. For more information on recycling lifetime see article here.
Okay, so that’s a lot of info. Not going to lie my head is spinning a little bit. What does this mean? How should we go about recycling and what does this mean with a zero waste lifestyle. Before you go ahead and toss out your recycle bin just think about what is in your bin. Is it mostly plastic? Find some alternative options.
Some alternatives to plastic everyday items are:
Shampoo/conditioner- buy bulk or shampoo/conditioner bar
Razors- safety razor or not shaving at all are the best options. Homemade sugar waxing is also a more and more common option.
Bubble bath- reusable bubble bar or bulk liquid soap
Soap-unpackaged bar soap or naturally biodegradable packaged bar soap
Floss- biodegradable floss, or refillable biodegradable floss
toothbrush- unpackaged or biodegradable packaged bamboo tooth brush
Toilet brush- bamboo brush
Dish/bottle/straw scrubber- knitted scrubby or bamboo scrubber
Straws-bamboo or metal (silicone is an option but still not recyclable or biodegradable)
Menstrual cycles-reusable pads, diva cup, free bleeding or period panties
Medicines/band aides- alternative practices like essential oils or natural remedies, cloth bandages made from old shirts or clothing (100% cotton is best.) Please note that I am not a doctor and you should inquire before you change anything with your medical lifestyle. If you need something do not give it up, your health is ultimately very important and don’t feel as though you can not accept any medicine if you do need to do so.
Packaged food: Buy bulk with your own containers and unpackaged fruits/veggies. If you are a meat eater you can try bringing your own containers to the meat counter-but don’t act like you are unsure in this practice. Be confident when asking, simply say “blank pounds of that meat in this container please” if you are confident your are more likely to be accepted and unquestioned. Also for meat eaters buy eggs in cardboard not styrofoam.
Opt for glass packaging where ever possible if needed, glass is an infinite recyclable.
Once the plastic side of life is cut out of our lifestyles as best as we can, we are able to focus on the other recycling uses. Obviously it is still not the greatest, but still better than sending our cans to a landfill. If you are a person who is busy and do not have time for massive meal prep canned food is the best option sometimes. We buy canned beans still and canned tomatoes/sauce simply because these are the items that take the longest to cook and we eat them on a daily basis. We do not have the means at this time to cook massive amounts of beans and canned works best with our life. We rinse the cans according and recycle them. Along the lines of things like this are sparkling water cans, metal straws and metal cutlery. Straws and cutlery are harder to know what to do with so research those items before tossing them in the bin.
Okay, so paper items. It is best to just compost these items if you compost. If not recycle them accordingly. Boxes can be reused by putting donations in them or using them to ship back for charity-see link here. Otherwise recycle cardboard boxes accordingly. Otherwise another great option to is try and go paperless, in a technology world this is more and more popular. Recycle/reuse or donate old electronics accordingly.
So, then recycling? Is it good? Bad? After all this research and information I can conclude it’s a neutral topic. Should we recycle more? No, we should cut out plastic from our lives. We should compost (if possible) everything that we can, cut out the packaging that is not necessary and then we should evaluate what is left and recycle accordingly. The end result should be no trash and very little if possible in our recycling bin.
Zero waste may seem daunting or impossible, especially depending on the region. But as someone who has no bulk stores or zero waste stores in their area we have somehow managed to make it work. Mostly thanks to metal, glass, bulk sections of our local grocery and lush cosmetics (which recycle everything, offer naked packaging and have compostable paper packaging.) we have managed to fulfill a minimal waste lifestyle. Now we are focused on using up the plastics that we have before we went to this lifestyle.
Recycling can be a wonderful tool, but we still need to be wary of the impact that it has and how many of the items are actually going to be reused/recycled. If you are serious about this life, research everything you can and evaluate what items in your life can be replaced by other more environmentally friendly products.
Happy Zero Wasting!