Reduction of recycling imports, lack of education, and consumerism are just a few of the issues that the recycling industry faces today. As we use more, we discard more, and though many people care about the state of the world and environmental issues, recycling in the US is not improving, leaving the future a little uncertain.
A recent article from the Missourian showed how much recycling and composting has been decreasing at Mizzou in the past few years. While some of this has to do with budget cuts, a lot of it has to do with recycling contamination from students. In truth, many people don’t know how to recycle correctly, and may not feel it is important for them to do so. When the wrong things are put into recycling bins, it causes problems in the recycling chain and the other perfectly recyclable items in the mix become unusable. When it comes down to it, recycling is an easy thing to do and the effort from just one person separating their waste correctly can make a huge difference.
The MU Sustainability Office has entered Mizzou into Recyclemania- an event to compare our school’s recycling with other schools around the country. Recyclables will be tracked until March 30th, so if you’re a Mizzou student, now is the perfect time to do your part and recycle correctly on campus as well as in your home!
A Handy Guide to Recycling
First of all, check with your local waste utilities. In Columbia, plastics #1-7 can all be recycled. However, that does not include Styrofoam or any filmy plastics like cling wrap, Ziploc bags, and grocery bags (those you can take to most Walmart stores to recycle!). Smaller items like utensils and lids can be a confusing addition to this. While many small plastic items can be recycled (look for the triangle!), they are often lost in the sorting process, so a good idea is to put those items in larger plastic containers, or reattach them to a bottle or cup whenever possible.
So, what about paper and cardboard items? Most of the work is breaking down cardboard boxes. Don’t worry about removing plastic windows from letters and tissue boxes, this is done for you by recycling facilities! Here’s where it gets more complicated: used tissues themselves are never recyclable, and same goes for paper towels. Coffee cups are lined with wax or plastic, so they also cannot be recycled. So, the lid from your morning Starbucks is technically recyclable, but the cup is not (always remember your reusable mug!).
One of the most important things to know about recycling is how to prepare your items. It’s rarely enough to just dump it without thinking. Food contamination is a major issue with recyclables, it’s the reason we have to rinse out peanut butter jars and that pizza boxes can’t be recycled (the tops of pizza boxes, however, usually fine!). It may be starting to sound like recycling is a lot of work, but just take it one item at a time. You may begin to realize just how much you’re consuming!