From 1992 to 2018, China imported 106 million metric tons of plastic waste (or 45 percent of all recycled plastic). But because Americans are generally terrible at so many things, our recycling is filthy. Due to the enormous scale of plastic scrap, China, citing environmental hazards, is now refusing to buy our shitty, residue-coated materials. Last year, China placed a ban on all plastic waste imports and has decided to focus on cleaning up its own act, presumably becoming a world leader in renewable energy.
Now the US has been forced into a position of figuring out what the hell we’re doing with our lives and how to better manage our waste. Remember in elementary school, when they taught us the three “R”s of being kind to our environment? Reduce, reuse, and recycle? (Also, why is “reduce” always ignored? Maybe we could buy less shit wrapped in plastic, and demand better standards for packaging materials for our products.)
As of right now, US cities have nowhere to put their recycling; it’s piling up or being buried, and many cities have resorted to significantly reducing or even ending their recycling programs entirely. It’s going to take some time before even progressive cities like Portland can figure it out, but this commingled recycling thing definitely isn’t working. Moving to commingled recycling is when shit really hit the fan in Portland, and we began living by the “wishful thinking” recycling philosophy: filling your blue container to the brim with anything you’d like to see recycled, failing to rinse containers thoroughly, and effectively contaminating everything in the heap. What follows are things you cannot put in your commingled recycling, although that hasn’t stopped you from trying: plastic lids, frozen food boxes, dirty diapers, dead animals.
At the moment, it’s hard to say where our recyclables are heading, but one thing’s for sure—Portlanders will keep recycling, because that’s what we do. And since only 9% of plastic produced in the US is recycled, here are a couple of tips to hopefully ensure that your recyclable waste can someday be reborn as a toy truck or a tree.
Composting > Recycling
Stop putting your grease-soaked pizza boxes in the recycling, and compost them already! One, they’re not recyclable once they’ve gotten food on them. And two, composting is the greenest way to break down waste. If you live in an apartment building that doesn’t allow you to easily compost, tear off the grease-stained portion and put the other half in the recycling bin. Luckily, pizza boxes are perforated, presumably for this exact reason! In addition to all kinds of food scraps (which account for 30,000 tons of unnecessary garbage locally every year), you can also compost paper bags, food-soaked paper plates, paper towels, napkins, and coffee filters. Nearly a third of the garbage that Portland households send to the landfill is food scraps. And that’s a damn shame, since composting creates a nutrient-rich soil amendment and prevents carbon emissions that happen when food breaks down in a landfill.
Thoroughly Rinse Your Containers, Morons (Please)!
While Portlanders are truly blessed to live in a city with an infrastructure that can support recycling and composting, most of us are completely inept when it comes to putting things in the blue commingled recycling bin. Many Portlanders have chosen to toss containers in the bin without rinsing them out. “Someone else will do it,” people seem to assume. For the love of god, grow up! No one else is going to clean up your shit, so stop forcing others to do all this gritty labor for no environmental gain. To put a finer point on it: When you’ve finished a carton of milk/bottle of lotion/can of soup, rinse it the fuck out. If you fail at this, then that rancid scent emanating from your recycling bin is the karma you and your entire family deserve.