By: Steven Li
Plastic recycling is changing. One trillion single-use plastic bags, half a billion plastic straws, and 500 billion plastic cups; these are the amount of plastics thrown away annually across the globe. With changes in China’s recycling policy, the United States may soon be recycling even less. (Earth Day Network, 2018).
In 2016, China took the lion’s share of two-thirds of the world’s plastic waste. For over 25 years, western countries, including the United States, have relied on several Asian countries to accept and purchase their recyclable materials. With China’s previous role as the world’s largest plastic purchaser, its early 2018 withdrawal has left the American recycling industries in despair.
With a lack of countries capable of importing the immense amount China used to, many recycling industries are forced to deposit these plastic materials back into the landfills (Couronne, 2018).
The United States is (literally and figuratively) filled with environmental issues, already consuming 30% of the world’s resources as 5% of the world’s population (University of Southern Indiana, 2018). Bluntly stated, America is wasteful. With a convenience-centered lifestyle, recycling can no longer be relied on to offset American waste.
Here comes the new R: reducing. If the United States can manage to reduce plastic output in the first place, there would be less plastic to address. The United States lives with one of the strongest economies and the most technological advancements. To sacrifice convenience of single-use plastics with reusable alternatives, less plastic can enter the landfills. In a study in London analyzing plastic reduction through bottle refills, Heather Koldewey, a marine biologist, discusses how the elimination of micro plastic pollution must “include water bottles, utensils, and bags as they are primarily for single-use and purely for convenience... not a necessity, allowing elimination.” Only with this attitude can the world slowly reduce its environmental impact and begin the planet’s road to sustainability.