By Tyler Thayer, Communications and Outreach Intern
Recycle or trash? This is the question we ask ourselves multiple times a day when we’re throwing something out. But what if the answer to that question isn’t as simple as we thought it was; what if there are more options than the blue bin or black bin? Well the answer is that there are definitely more options – and this is a realization that has become glaringly clear with the recent changes to the U.S. recycling process. Now more than ever we have to stop and try to understand the impact that our everyday items have on the environment.
But why are our recycling processes changing? The main reason is that we can no longer send our collected recyclables to China as we did for the past 25 years. China decided to stop accepting recyclables as part of an initiative to address the country’s environmental and human health problems – which will ultimately lead to cleaner waste practices. While this decision is beneficial for China and the environment as a whole, it forces the U.S. to restructure its own waste processes. The U.S. currently lacks the proper infrastructure to recycle some of the materials that China used to accept. So until the country develops new, clean recycling systems, many items that used to be recyclable, like yogurt cups, juice boxes, and cereal packages, are not anymore.
While this change presently poses environmental problems for the United States, it will hopefully have an overall positive effect on future waste disposal processes. Instead of relying so heavily on recycling for conservation, the U.S. must prioritize reducing and reusing – the two more impactful parts of the waste hierarchy. In the long run, shifting these priorities will yield positive outcomes, such as decreased usage of single use items, a cleaner recycling process, and smarter consumption.
But figuring out what to do with the newly non recyclable items isn’t just a national, big picture problem. The effects of this change will be felt on UCSB campus in a unique way as we try to meet our 90% waste diversion goal by 2020. This change will affect our current and future waste diversion rates as we no longer can recycle a significant amount of material. AS Recycling, the team that is working tirelessly to adapt to this shift, will be performing waste audits to find out exactly how much those diversions were responsible for and how it might affect our future recycling rates. .
What can the UCSB community do to help aide the upcoming changes? Jessie Schmitt, the UCSB Recycling and Compost Program Coordinator, and Matthew O’Carroll, the UCSB Recycling and Water Efficiency Manager, explain that “individuals must change their behaviors, because even the best waste infrastructure is rendered useless if consumer consciousness and buying habits don’t align with it”.
The following are some suggestions for how the UCSB community can address the waste issue:
- Acknowledge the hierarchy and prioritize reducing waste consumption and reusing items to avoid quick turnover into landfills.
- Avoid plastic wrap, single use bags, and rigid plastics #3-#7, because most of these products are non recyclable, yet end up being put in the recycle and contaminating batches when they a can’t be untangled.
- Know what is now recyclable and compostable on our campus by visiting recycling.as.ucsb.edu/downloadable-waste-signage.
- Compost in your backyard or through one of the public compost pilots happening in IV or Goleta.
- When in doubt, throw it in the trash, because the gas, money, and energy put into filtering non recyclables out and hauling it back to a landfill is worse than the less common problem of placing a recyclable item in the trash.
The overarching message is not that recycling is bad – on the contrary, it is still a major part of conservation – but rather that we as members of the global community must change our habits to do what’s best for the environment. For the UCSB community in particular, the best way to accomplish this is to stay informed about the waste processes on campus. A good source for this information is through the AS Recycling page.
If you are interested in helping UCSB accomplish our waste goals, think about joining the AS Zero Waste Committee! They are a group of students dedicated to reaching the UC system-wide goal of zero waste by the year 2020. Handshake is also a good way to find open positions at AS Recycling, the Department of Public Worms, and Sustainability.