Recycling isn't a waste of time

Illustration by Brooke Berry

Over the past couple of decades, recycling has become a household habit rather than a hippie extremist practice.

While many people seem to partake in the righteous act of recycling, most people aren’t doing it right, and their mistakes are negating many of the positive effects recycling can have.

Flagstaff has restrictions on what can and can’t be recycled. Ignoring these restrictions just makes the efforts a waste of time.

The city of Flagstaff’s website states, “In Flagstaff, you can recycle plastic bottles, jugs, and jars. All other plastics need to go in your trash bin.”

Frequently used plastic or plastic-coated beverage cups, straws and lids are not acceptable.

Seniors Morgan Minitti and Rayanne Pollard both said they strive to recycle as much as they can in an effort to live sustainably. However, when asked if they knew what could and could not be recycled in Flagstaff, they couldn’t answer definitively.

Knowing what types of plastics belong in the trash can be confusing, but the effort of understanding is worth the endeavor.

The industry typically labels plastics with different numbers and symbols to categorize their type. For Flagstaff, the plastics that can be recycled are plastic bottles, jugs, and jars. All other plastics need to go in your trash bin, according to the city’s website.

Not only does recycling save finite natural resources, it also creates jobs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a 2016 study found “in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenues.”

But if we’re not recycling right, we’re just wasting valuable time and energy.

Daniel K. Benjamin, a senior member of the Property and Environment Research Center stated in an article on Bigthink’s website, “In most cities across the nation, recycling of household trash is, in fact, wasteful even when we take into account the meager environmental benefits of such recycling.”

It’s easy to feel good about tossing a paper bag into the recycling bin. It is paper, after all. However, the sauce that’s spilling around the sides and pooling at the bottom isn’t recyclable, and the saucy bag just ruined pounds of usable material. The same goes for tin cans, cardboard and any other type of recyclable material — labels and food waste can hinder recyclability.

National Geographic reported in a 2018 article that, “With the rise of “single-stream” recycling systems in the late 1990s, the number of people partaking in recycling skyrocketed. Consumers in many areas no longer had to sort their recycling by the type of material ... it has also led to a significant amount of contamination — both in terms of damaged materials and unwanted stuff that gums up the works.”

Every day the sorting plant is tasked with categorizing contaminated materials from good, recyclable products. Entire bales of material get rejected daily due to too much contamination. The National Geographic article claimed, “Today, about a quarter of everything consumers place in recycling bins ultimately can’t be recycled by the programs that collect them.”

If plant workers are spending hours sorting contaminated items, labor costs go up, along with the expense of shipping the material to a landfill. It becomes difficult to justify the recycling effort.

However, despite the difficulties that accompany recycling, I urge NAU students, as well as Flagstaff locals, to recycle correctly. Make informed decisions, do what is right and make recycling actually beneficial by being a responsible and conscious consumer.