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  • Writer's pictureGaby H.

To Recycle or Not To Recycle?

For many of us, recycling has been a part of our lives forever. Even if we didn’t recycle personally, the green, three arrow symbol has been everywhere, as a way to promote a green lifestyle, to bring attention to the effects plastic and paper waste has on the global environment. We all have seen photos of animals caught in various plastics, and the deforestation of our planets most precious ecosystems. But how effective is recycling, really?

In late April 2020, us Clevelanders got some bad news. For the past month, due to a lapsed contract with a hauling company, all Cleveland recyclables have been brought to a landfill. Cleveland Mayor Jackson instructed citizens to keep recycling, while the city looks for another company to transport recyclables away for processing. In a letter addressed by the City, they explain how we got here, citing increased costs of recycling as the main factor. At the beginning of Cleveland’s recycling program, the city, like many cities across the United States, were paid for their recycling materials. Most of these materials were set to processing plants in China. Due to sustainability programs in China and tariffs on American exports that began in 2018, these Chinese plants are no longer accepting these materials. In addition, many Americans, including Clevelanders, do not recycle properly. According to the letter by the City of Cleveland, 68% of recyclables are contaminated, and are sent to a landfill. These two factors, according to the city, have driven up costs dramatically, hence the lapse in their recycling contract for the last month. We posted the full letter below to read for yourself.

This is utterly disappointing for the city, but given the global changes in waste management, I can understand why this happened. Obviously, the city should not have hidden the lapsed contract from its residents. It’s important to note that other municipalities in Cuyahoga County are still recycling, as each jurisdiction is responsible for their own waste management contracts. However, the contamination of recyclables across the county varies quite a bit, as municipalities have taken different approaches to their recycling programs, some providing materials to educate their residents how to recycle and sort properly. I grew up in Parma, and was pretty diligent on recycling, but I did not know for years that the city only takes certain recyclables, and these materials have to be washed out and dried out. I know my household did not get any educational materials or notices from the city, and according to the Cuyahoga County’s Solid Waste 2018 Annual Report, Parma’s rate of recycling was only 20% of total waste. The City of Lakewood was 15% of total waste, Rocky River and Westlake were both 11% of total waste, and Cleveland was 7% of total waste.

This is an issue that is not unique to Northeast Ohio, unfortunately. The changes in Chinese trade has upended waste management across the country, many items like milk cartons and egg cartons, which were once considered recyclable, are now considered trash. These are changes have been happening since 2018, and yet two years later the general public doesn’t know any better - many of us are “recycling” as normal, and to be frank, the blame is on our governments’ direct miscommunication on what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to move forward. At Green City Roots, we’re not writing this to tell you to NOT recycle. Quite the opposite. We want to encourage our community to take a look at your city’s recycling rates. Research protocols for recycling, what you can and cannot put in the blue bin. Recycle smarter, not harder.

In fact, the best way to recycle and help the environment is recycling less by the 5 R’s:

Refuse plastics, go paper or glass

Reduce the amount of plastics you use

Reuse what you can, like water bottles and straws (see our Earth Day Post!)

Repurpose by composting

Recycle properly

Recycling should be our last resort, as we move to a less wasteful, greener world. We’ll have more on the 5 R’s later, with more ideas on how to truly incorporate this method into your day to day life. Our founder, Alex, will also be doing a introductory post about composting, which not only helps reduce and repurpose waste, but is great for your garden. As always, if you have any questions, let us know, and keep green!


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