Next to every trash can across campus, you will find a separate bin for recycling and in every trash room, different receptacles for various materials. However, far too often, you see cardboard, aluminum and especially plastic thrown in with regular garbage.
For years, we have seen plastic pollute our land and oceans, taking years to fully decompose. According to The Washington Post, the United States has become one of the cheapest countries in the world to manufacture goods, including plastic.
Companies and citizens have tried to remedy this issue worldwide by recycling our items with the hope that it would lessen our negative impact. On Rider’s campus last year, approximately 503 tons of trash were thrown away but only 115 tons were recycled. It can also be assumed that a large portion of those 503 tons were plastic, cardboard and aluminum materials that were mistakenly disposed of.
It’s often a misconception that our recyclable materials are processed and reused in the U.S., when in reality they are exported to China and processed overseas. According to Morgan Stanley, roughly 30 percent of North America’s recyclables were processed in China, where over half of the world’s plastic scrap were imported in 2016. What were they doing with all of these scraps? Well, China would purchase our used recycled plastic and process it to make new products such as pipes or household items like carpets, according to Bloomberg.
This arrangement was working out fine for the U.S. However, China has recently grown intolerant of being the “world’s garbage dump.” As stated by Waste Management, as of July 2017, China notified the World Trade Organization that the amount of contaminated paper and plastic materials it would accept will go down from around 5 percent to about 0.3 percent starting Jan. 1 2018, creating a great challenge for the U.S. and other nations. China became virtually buried in our trash. Too many of those items are also contaminated with food waste or chemicals, which makes them unusable.
The main concern is what will happen to our recyclables now that China has tightened the reigns. Many are unaware of the dangers we and our environment may face if we can’t recycle on as large a scale as before. At Rider, disposing of our trash responsibly is of utmost importance. Learning how to do so and what kind of impact you are making is imperative. Sophomore environmental science and TV, film and radio double major, Kristen Castronuovo, is passionate about our environment and feels that “as a country, we need to be more cautious about what we recycle, and education is the big problem.”
It is still unclear as to what permanent solutions are in the works for the U.S., but the recycling market “is ever-changing and what’s allowed now may not be allowed in five years,” said Larry Lapidus, education solutions representative of Waste Management. Some states are cracking down on plastic pollution by implementing bans on things like plastic bags or bottles. Some recyclers are also limiting the types of plastics they will accept in an attempt to reduce overall usage and decrease trash buildup.
At Rider, it can be difficult to notice the little things that are helping to lessen our impact, like biodegradable coffee cups in Andrew J’s and a single napkin dispenser outside of Cranberry’s instead of one per table. I urge everyone to pay more attention to the little things because those small acts can grow into monumental accomplishments for us and our planet.
Printed in the 2/14/18 issue.