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EcoWise: Don’t Just Recycle…Reduce

The recent decision by the Village of Pelham to return to weekly from biweekly recycling pickup – after residents asked for the change in the new garbage contract – is just one indication that most households in the broader Town of Pelham dutifully recycle their plastic, paper and metal.

Recycling is to be encouraged. But next time you’re hauling out your bin full of plastic bottles, you might take a moment to think about things differently. How? By figuring out how to lessen both garbage and recycling – by buying items that have minimal packaging, using refillable water bottles instead of buying the kind that can eventually be recycled, or refusing a straw with your soda.

If that sounds like a big ask, you could first focus just on reducing use of plastic, particularly single-use items. (And if you’re buying items like ketchup and detergent for the house, buy them in bulk; it cuts down on packaging.)

Why single out plastic? Because even after it’s recycled, it never really goes away. Virtually all of the plastic that has ever been made is still on the planet in some fashion. A plastic bottle takes over 400 years to decompose — a plastic straw about 200 years.

The fact is that is the United Nations has termed plastic pollution “a planetary crisis” and there’s no sign – yet — that demand for plastic is slowing down. Some 311 millions tons of plastic is produced each year, and that amount is supposed to quadruple by 2050, according to the European Environmental Bureau. Especially given that everyday items such as plastic bags and straws can’t easily be recycled, this is not a problem that can be handled solely by recycling.

And, unfortunately, there’s an even bigger issue on the horizon: whether items that are meant to be recycled will actually end up being recycled. A December story from Bloomberg News detailed a change in policy in China that is having global implications for the recycling business. The country – the biggest buyer of the world’s waste – is getting much more finicky about what recycling it will accept. The story explains: “The country is trying to curb rampant pollution with new restrictions on waste imports and shutting old industrial plants, including mills that process foreign scrap into reusable raw materials.”

While it’s unclear right now how or if this change will affect the much smaller world of Pelham recycling, the best way to adjust to an ever-changing landscape is simple: don’t just recycle, but refuse, reduce, reuse — and then recycle.