The Unvarnished Truth about Recycling and How We can Truly Combat Plastic Pollution

Hello there, my fellow eco-warriors!

Before moving to the US in the summer of 2014, I was an environmental science teacher in my home country, Mexico. As I stood in front of my middle-school students, my goal was to foster in them a deep respect and understanding of our amazing planet and it was during these years that I began my journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle.

I had been to the United States multiple times before officially moving here, but I was still expecting some sort of cultural shift. However, one thing that struck me was the significantly higher amount of waste generated here compared to Mexico. Paper towels were used and discarded without a second thought. Plastic water bottles were everywhere, and plastic bags were used for even the smallest of purchases. What shocked me even more was the sense of complacency people felt because they were "recycling".

Woman recycling plastic bottles - Canva image

Recycling, for decades, has been presented as the primary strategy in the battle against plastic waste. It provides the comforting illusion of a world where plastic consumption can continue without environmental consequence. However, the reality is harsher.

The Inefficiency of Plastic Recycling

Despite our best intentions, a minuscule percentage of our plastic waste is truly recyclable. According to research, a meager 9% of the total plastic ever produced has been recycled. This statistic is a reminder of recycling's limitations. Many plastic types, such as plastic bags and wrapping films, pose challenges to recycling machinery. Most of it ends up in landfills, incinerators, or worse, our oceans, creating a dangerous, toxic environment for marine life. Why does this happen? Because the recycling process is complicated, costly, and often thwarted by the contamination of recyclable materials. 

A person in the middle of a landfill - Canva image

Unsustainable Energy Consumption

Recycling also demands high energy input, thus raising further environmental concerns. It requires sorting, cleaning, and reprocessing, all energy-consuming processes. The carbon footprint of recycling could, in some instances, outweigh the benefits of producing new plastic.

Microplastics and Plastic Leaching

Even when recycled, plastic isn't fully benign. Microplastics, tiny fragments of plastic under 5mm in size, are an unfortunate byproduct of the recycling process. These microplastics contaminate our oceans, soil, and air, posing significant threats to wildlife and humans.

The Impact of Imported Plastic Waste

We must also consider the global consequences of our recycling habits. For years, developed countries have been shipping their plastic waste to developing nations for recycling. This practice not only exacerbates environmental issues in these countries but also contributes to the global plastic pollution problem.

Bales of plastic - Canva image

Does that mean we shouldn't recycle? Absolutely not!

Of course, we always want to first refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, regift, and repurpose - but for those things we can’t, properly recycling them is the next best thing. Especially for those materials that can actually be closed-loop recycled (aka recycled back into the same thing over and over again) - things like glass, metal, and cardboard.

 Recycling bins - Canva image

Let's pivot to the brighter side. What can we, as individuals, do to make a real difference? The answer, dear friends, is to go beyond recycling. Enter the concept of zero-waste homes and reusable goods.

Living a zero-waste life doesn't mean perfection; it means striving to reduce where we can. It’s about replacing that single-use plastic water bottle with a reusable one. It’s about opting for a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one. It’s about gifting your loved ones with sustainable gifts, items that won't contribute to the growing mountains of plastic waste but instead can be used and loved over and over again.

And the beauty of this transition? You're not just helping the planet – you're also creating a simpler, less cluttered lifestyle for yourself. You're breaking free from the cycle of consumption and waste, and stepping into a way of living that values quality, longevity, and sustainability over disposability.

Here at Coco Stripes, we are committed to making this journey easier for you. We have a range of eco-friendly, reusable products that are not just functional, but stylish too. From kitchen essentials to bathroom must-haves, we've got everything you need to embark on your journey to a zero-waste home.

Remember, every little step counts. The zero-waste journey is not about grand, sweeping changes, but the accumulation of small, conscious decisions that together, can make a huge difference.

So, let's join hands and embrace this journey together. Are you with me?