Is Recycling Truly Sustainable?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

There is a lot more that goes on within recycling, than what most people are aware of. While recycling diverts some waste from a landfill, it also can be quite problematic. Specifically when it comes to plastics and clothing.

Selling used clothes and donating to second hand stores is a better option than throwing them out in the trash. It's said that only 10% of clothing that is donated is actually re-sold and re-used. So what happens to the clothing that isn't sold? It gets either thrown out, burned, or shipped overseas to other third world countries that don't have the infrastructure to manage the mass amount of "donations" they are receiving. To me, it's just getting the problem off of one country's hands and dumping it onto another. The United States alone ships a billion pounds of used textiles overseas every year. Africa receives 70% of this clothing, which tends to hurt the country's economy more than helping.

What can we do?

Buy less! Only buy what you need and make sure you love it 1000% before you buy it. Keep your wardrobe simple and diverse so pieces can be mixed and matched and worn year round. Have a special event that you need something special for? Consider renting, Rent the Runway is great for renting designer clothing at an affordable price. Who doesn't want to show up to a wedding or special event in a beautiful designer dress for a fraction of the price? For clothes that no longer fit, get stained, or no longer needed try to see if you can give it a second life by making it into something else. Old summer dress? Can you cut it into a top or skirt? Old pants? Cut into a shorts or skirt and save the legs and sew shut for little gift bags (who doesn't want a reusable denim wine bag?). If the clothing piece is in perfect condition and you don't want to re-create it into something new, offer it to a friend or family member. There are plenty of second hand apps where you sell directly to the consumer. This is better than bringing it to a different re-sale shop that will buy old clothes off of you. You'll also probably make more money by selling the items yourself!

I have a white silk shirt that I recently spilled coffee over (UGH) so I'm currently trying to come up with a way to still make use of it - whether I dye it a new color myself to hide the stain, or cut it up and make it into a pretty white silk headband and scruchies?!

What we put into our recycling bin is another problem we gotta talk about.

First, lets go over the basics of what can and cannot be put into the recycling bin and how to recycle properly. Like clothing, only 9% of plastic used everyday is recycled. Not all plastic can be recycled, knowing what can and cannot go into your recycling bin is the first step. I have a regular trash bin, a glass/plastic/aluminum recycling bin, and I reuse my paper grocery bags to recycle paper, cardboard, and carton products. Paper products have to be separated from glass, plastic, aluminum. I recently found a compost drop off in my neighborhood, so I will start composting soon too.

Please remember that what you can recycle varies depending on where you live. A quick google search will give you the exact do's and don't for your specific area. Below are general rules! Make sure all items you recycle are CLEAN before you put it in the bin. For plastic that you are unsure if it can be recycled, check to see if it's labeled with a number on it. It looks like the recycling symbol with a number 1-7 in it. I'll give some examples and if it can be recycled and picked up below.

1: Recyclable, easy to recycle. This is the type of plastic (PET) used for some food and drink containers, like hummus. This will be picked up by curbside recycling.

2: Recyclable, easy to recycle. This is a thicker type of plastic (HDPE) like shampoo bottles, or milk jugs. This will be picked up by curbside recycling.

3: Not recyclable, this plastic (PVC) is used to store chemicals, or more commonly in children's toys. This has to go into your regular garbage.

4: Not recyclable, this plastic (LDPE) is used for things like plastic bags, bread bags, or six pack rings.

5: Recyclable, not that easy to recycle. (PP) is the plastic used for yogurt cups, straws, bottle caps, hangers. Most will pick up and recycle, but it's best to check before assuming.

6: Not recyclable, this (PS) plastic is styrofoam. This has to go into your regular garbage.

7: Not recyclable, this is the "other" plastic category - sunglasses, or baby bottles. This has to go into your regular garbage.

Some other things that can't go into your recycling bin:

  • mirrors

  • lightbulbs

  • squeeze pouches - toothpaste, lotion,

  • cables, wires, hoses - anything that can be "tangled"

  • disposable razors

  • batteries

  • hardcover books

  • paper that has a heavy wax for protection - frozen containers, candy wrappers

  • soiled paper products - overly greasy pizza cardboard, soiled napkin or paper towels

Plastic has been integrated into so many parts of our lives, it's difficult to avoid. I try to avoid as much as I can when grocery shopping. Buying from the bulk section if your grocery store has it and bringing your own containers is a start! Also cooking more from scratch at home will reduce plastic intake when grocery shopping. Make your own salad dressing, or dipping sauce. Make your own snacks, or buy snacks that are in cardboard boxes. Take out less, and go out to eat more. Composting also diverts food waste from a landfill and helps make great soil, some compost drop offs offer soil in exchange for your compost.

Remember that NO ONE is perfect, we all are going to have waste, and that's okay. Slow down and simplify, and for areas that you cant - you can't! By being more conscious about our waste and avoiding what we can, and recycling what we can makes a difference! We don't need perfect people, we need everyone making efforts towards helping our planet, keeping it clean, and making it last for generations to come.