In the world of green living, recycling is one of the most important steps to a better environment. Scientists now say that there is an island or “soup” of garbage growing in the Pacific Ocean – and it is two times the size of the continental U.S. The area is in the North Pacific Gyre, a swirling vortex of under-ocean currents that keep the ocean water from leaving that spot. This seems unbelievable but the latest EPA statistics conclude that the U.S. is generating 251.3 million tons of waste each year. That is an average of 4.6 pounds of garbage per person per day. And of that garbage, only 32% of it is being recycled or composted. This means that over 70% of our 251 million tons is being buried, burned, or it is ending up in the “North Pacific Garbage Patch” in the middle of the ocean. It turns out that most of the garbage soup is plastic – 80% of the floating soup is plastic because plastic does not biodegrade. As plastic ages it crumbles, leaving so many tiny fragments that seawater in the North Pacific Gyre contains more plastic than plankton, the tiny sea life that many ocean creatures feed on. Birds and ocean life die from eating the plastic, trash mutilates wildlife – such as this turtle caught in a plastic ring, toxins enter water supplies and pollute the world’s beaches. Isn’t it time to stop this madness?
The 2009 Recycling Guide for Knox, Blount, Loudon and Anderson Counties, can be found on the Knoxville Recycling Coalition website. The booklet provides maps of where the recycling stations are located in Knoxville and the surrounding communities, as well as what is recycled in those stations. Plus, there is a lot of valuable information about recycling itself – why to do it, how to do it, statistics to encourage others to do it and evolving ways to think about it. In the 2009 Recycling Guide there is a new addition to the traditional 3-R’s of recycling. Instead of only Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, there is a fourth R – Rot is now included making it the 4-R’s of recycling.
Recycling doesn’t begin at the recycling bin, nor does it end in the recycling bin. If you are determined to do the right thing, you have to change your mind set to start thinking recycling. We have to change from the old model of trash to the new model of the material cycle. In recycling there is a flow of materials. Moving from the product you consume back to new products, the flow of materials is key to understating recycling (hence the chasing arrows on the recycling symbol). Reduce is the first step to recycling. Similar to precycling, it is the process of using less after you have purchased a product. A good rule of thumb is the Halving Principle. It is simply trying to make do with half of what you normally do. Try using half the shampoo or toothpaste and see how much you really need. Reuse – even if you can reuse something, give it to someone else who can use it. Try reusing your old toothbrush to clean with for example. Recycle by separating your materials and take it to one of the drop off centers (listed on page 23). Rot is another term for composting, such as yard waste and food scraps. Landfills are designed to keep water and air out, so biodegration of organic material is slowed considerably. This means your banana might last twelve years in a landfill compared to the normal three weeks just on the ground.
If you are interested in learning more about where our garbage comes from and where it is going, The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard is a great place to start. The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute video that takes an in depth look at stuff – where it comes from, how it is made, how it is sold, used, and disposed. The video takes a hard look at the underside of human production and consumption patterns. It connects the often invisible line between environmental and social issues, and supplies an opportunity for people to come together to create a more sustainable and just world.
It can be overwhelming to learn some of the facts associated with the amount garbage produced annually in the U.S. Yet, it is so important that people begin the 4-R’s of recycling, especially when thinking about our future generations.