Recycling Isn’t the Solution to Our Waste Problem

Many Americans are diligent about their recycling. They know what their county recycles, they try and find recyclable materials, and they duly wash and clean their recyclables before sending them off to get recycled - and it does help! Every little bit helps. However, sadly, we’re at the stage where recycling is no longer a complete solution to our waste problem. Let’s discuss why, and look at possible solutions to this problem – including eco beauty products.

Now, before we get started, we would like to say that this article (at least the first half) will sound rather pessimistic. However, don’t be disheartened by what you read. This is important information that you need to know, and you should use it to guide your future actions.

Recycling Isn’t the Solution

A lot – and we mean a lot – of organizations stress the importance of recycling. Surely they aren’t all misinformed? No, they aren’t. Recycling is very important if we want to minimize the damage caused to the environment. However, there are a couple problems with recycling:


Recycling Usually Means Downcycling

Americans are trying really hard to recycle what they can, and our rate of recycling paper is pretty good. However, when it comes to paper, plastic and certain other materials, recycling is usually downcycling. This is because we assume that when things are recycled, they’re restored to a fresh, virgin state. So for example, when we send in a plastic shampoo bottle for recycling, we assume it will be turned into more plastic containers. That isn’t the case.

Recycled plastic is very different from virgin plastic, and it’s mostly shipped off to developing countries that use it in furniture, carpets and clothing.

Let’s talk about paper next. It can only be recycled five to seven times before the fibers start to fall apart. Paper towels and napkins are generally the last stage in paper recycling – meaning you can’t recycle paper after that point. It can only be composted.

Glass Recycling

This one deserves a whole section of its own. Unlike paper and plastic, glass is endlessly recyclable. It can be melted and forged into fresh containers again and again without any loss in quality. However, our rate of glass recycling is low. This is an interesting subject that we’ll talk about in detail in a separate article, but here’s the issue in a nutshell:

Glass shatters easily, and the recycling center can’t work with broken glass bottles and containers, because they pose a safety hazard to their workers. So even if you buy eco beauty products that come in glass and duly clean it and put it out to recycle, the journey from your house to the recycling center is a tumultuous one that can undo all your efforts.

This, again, means that recycling can’t quite cut it unless we come up with a solution. Which we might – stay tuned for our blog on this subject!

Recycling Requires a Lot of Energy

Recycling is an energy-intensive process. So you have all this waste material that required a lot of energy to produce, and now you need more energy to recycle (and effectively downgrade) it, so it can be used again. Recycling doesn’t sound as good when seen from this perspective.

Then there’s the fact that the energy we use mostly comes from non-renewable, non eco-friendly resources – in other words, fossil fuels. There are renewable energy sources, of course, but we’re still a long way from being able to use them to power mass production plants.

In the end, it comes down to what we think is more important: reducing our energy use, or reducing the amount of waste we create. Of course, recycling kills two birds with one stone, since it uses less energy than producing virgin materials would, but the fact remains that recycling isn’t a miracle cure. If we were to recycle 100% of our waste material, it still wouldn’t solve the problem.

Not Everyone Recycles

Finally, there’s the fact that while we have many conscientious, eco-friendly citizens, we also have our fair share of litter louts and people who are too lazy to recycle. The EPA reports that only about 35% of recyclable materials are actually sent in for recycling. That isn’t a bad number, if you think about it – it’s a third of all recyclable materials. However, that means 65% of recyclables end up in the landfill.

There’s no simple way to make everyone accept recycling globally, so even if recycling could solve our problems, we’d have issues.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest in eco beauty products, or that you should give up on recycling – that wasn’t the point of this article! There are solutions to this problem, and that’s what we’ll look at next.

The Solution

Things are looking pretty grim right now, which is why certain enterprising people have decided that we should inhabit Mars instead. Props to them for thinking way outside the box, but what about those of us who want to stay on Earth? What about those of us who want to help make things better out here? Is there still hope?

Yes, there is. This problem does have a solution.

The key is for companies and individuals to consider recycling in tandem with other eco-friendly activities. Recycling alone simply won’t cut it, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and stop trying. Our efforts are helping – and if combined with efforts in another direction, they can start to undo the damage we’ve caused. Let’s look at what else we should be doing, in addition to recycling:

Use Metal Containers

Instead of plastic and glass. Not only will they last longer, but metal has a better recycling rate, and is comparable to glass, minus the breakage issue. There are few eco beauty products that come in a metal container because those are expensive to produce, but DEWMTY is one of the few that does it! Their soothing serum bar has no water or filler added to it, and comes in a cute little metal container.

Buy Products that Come with Little or No Packaging

Recycling is good, but reducing your waste generation is better still! Most of our products fit the bill, but we’d like to give a shoutout to Kate McLeod’s Body Stones, which are waterless moisturizers that come in a reusable bamboo case. Refills come in unbleached linen cloths that can be repurposed as washcloths.

Buy in Bulk

When you buy a product in bulk, you reduce the amount of packaging you end up with, and you’ll likely get a solid, reusable container to boot! Bulk purchases also prepare you better for the future, since you don’t have to hop out to buy more as often. And guess what? You’ll usually get it cheaper, too!

Reuse and Repurpose

Say you bought the Sun Reflector by Earthwise Beauty. Once you’ve finished using the product, what do you do with the container? Instead of sending it right out to get recycled, reuse it! You can use most containers to store little items in, and pump bottles are great for lotion and shampoo. If you’re traveling and need a travel-size shampoo bottle, don’t buy a new one!

Focus on Zero Waste

Most of the products we sell are low or zero-waste. Take our Bamboo Sheet Set, for example. They’re biodegradable and can be upcycled, and they’re shipped in ecoenclose envelopes that you can add to your compost pile. There are many other brands that are trying to minimize their use of packaging, in this world where bananas and oranges come shrink-wrapped.

These were just a few tips, but there’s a lot more that you can do. Remember that recycling isn’t the only thing we’re supposed to do – we need to go above and beyond. The Earth has suffered through decades of abuse, and it’ll take more than recycling a small percentage of our waste to restore it to its previous state.

PETase – an easy way out (theoretically!)

What if the plastic problem could just disappear? Something like that could be possible, theoretically speaking. Our plastic problem could disappear rather quickly, all thanks to a certain bacterium scientists have discovered, that feeds on plastic!

The bacterium is called I. sakaiensis, and Japanese scientists found it living in sludge samples near a PET bottle recycling site. This bacterium uses an enzyme called PETase to digest plastic, and then convert it to terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, which are the raw materials used to create plastic. Neither of these is harmful to the environment.

This bacterium makes quick work of plastic, and scientists are working on new, improved versions that can do the job faster still, and therefore be something we can use on a large scale. However, what that also means is that currently, I. sakaiensis is not a viable solution – just a theoretical one.

Overnight success is possible and miracles have happened before. But till that happens, let’s continue to do what we can. Going zero waste isn’t difficult if you go about it the right way, and by doing this we’ll chip away at the problem little by little. If PETase becomes a reality – hey, that’s a welcome bonus! There’s lots and lots of plastic that needs to be taken care of, and PETase will help with that. However, just because of this possibility, let’s not shirk our responsibility towards the environment.