Is Our Recycling System in the US Actually Working? Short Answer: No


Reduce, reuse, recycle is a saying we are all familiar with, placed next to the three green recycling arrows on trash bins.But are we really making a difference by recycling our soda can, or have we been lied to?

Americans are consuming more and more, which means there’s more trash, especially plastic. Does anyone actually know where our recycled products go once they are emptied from the recycling bins? For decades, the U.S. sent a large portion of it’s recycling to China where it would be made into shoes, bags, etc. In 2016, China imported two-thirds of global plastic waste. As of last year, China restricted imports on many of our recycled products; now the U.S. has to deal with our own waste which means most of it is going into the trash. But even before China halted the shipments of our recycled products, our recycling system failed to recycle most of our waste. 

The excessive amount of waste in our landfills is causing many environmental issues. When waste sits in a landfill, it decomposes and emits methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is extremely potent and one of the most powerful contributors to our climate crisis. On top of that, many facilities burn plastic that produce carbon emissions and release toxic chemicals. Runoff of toxic chemicals from landfills can end up contaminating our water supplies.

Design by Holly Delay

Americans are at the peak of consumption and waste, so now is not the time for our recycling system to completely plummet. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2015, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste, which adds up to 4.5 pounds per person per day. There is something America is lacking. Our current system is not enough for how much waste we produce. 

Fortunately, many Americans are starting to think along these lines. Now that the concept of zero waste is more prominent, people are becoming aware of the damage we have caused to the Earth. Several cities including New York, San Francisco and San Diego are aiming to reduce landfill waste. When we reduce our everyday waste we will realize it’s not that hard to live without the use of styrofoam, plastic and single-use products. Despite the harsh reality of our recycling system not doing its job, I am not saying you shouldn’t recycle. The time is now to lessen our ecological footprints. 


Manhappenin' Magazine is Kansas State University's student-created lifestyle magazine.


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