Recycling in the United States
Only about a third of US waste is recycled
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generates around 250 million tons of waste a year. Of that 250 million tons, only about a third of this is recycled and composted.
However, US plastic recycling numbers are extremely low, as only 9% of all plastic trash is recycled. These numbers are shocking, especially if compared to other highly developed countries, such as Germany which has a recycling rate of 56.1%, or Switzerland and Italy, who recycle around 50% of all plastic trash.
Why are the recycling numbers so low for the US?
Well, until recently, The USA was exporting about 40% of its recycling trash to China, thus removing the problem at the very core and easing the whole recycling process for the country. However, the scenario radically changed in 2017, once China decided to modify the laws regarding “yang laji” or foreign garbage: the Chinese authorities realized that too much trash was mixed with the recyclables. Therefore, the Chinese government placed strict rules when it comes to buying foreign garbage: the recycling needs to be lean and unmixed—a standard too hard to meet for most American cities.
So what happens now for US recycling?
Recycling companies in the US are increasingly charging more for their recycling services. Of course, not all can afford the higher costs, therefore, some cities are resorting to alternative ways such as incinerators. Philadelphia is one of these cities which is currently adopting this ‘temporary solution’. Philadelphia authorities have identified the areas where there is most contamination in the recycling bins and started sending their material to an incinerator in nearby Chester, PA that turns waste into energy which can be sold back to the electrical grid.
However, the concerns regarding this incineration activity are many, especially about the increased air pollution around the Chester area. In fact, according to the state health statistics, the Chester situation is already alarming as ‘nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64 percent higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24 percent higher’ (Milman, 2019). These findings are also due to the fact that the Chester incinerator, as well as many others in the country, is aging thus probably would not meet the latest pollution controls.
Nearly 4 in 10 children in Chester, PA have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64 percent higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24 percent higher
It is clear that the whole recycling system in the US needs to be overhauled in order to decrease the environmental damage, especially due to the considerable size of the USA and the amount of garbage the country produces.
Another way to improve the current US trash situation would be to focus on reducing the overall waste, and there are many ways that people can learn how to do that. Few tips, especially related to plastic, are given through our previous blog posts regarding the Plastic-Free July challenge.
Having a Lavit machine in an office environment radically reduces the use of single-use plastics within the workplace as the machine can produce many different types of drinks (25+ flavors) - such as iced teas/coffee, flavored waters and so on - without having to use plastic bottles and/or packaging.
The drinks are produced through a 100% recyclable aluminum EcoCap just one-seventh the size of a 12 oz. aluminum can, which can be directly thrown into the recycling trash after use.
The drinks are produced through a 100% recyclable aluminum EcoCap just one-seventh the size of a 12 oz. aluminum can, which can be directly thrown into the recycling trash after use. Moreover, unlike plastic, aluminum is a material that can be infinitely recycled: It can be recycled over and over again without losing quality, in fact, 75% of aluminum ever created is still in use today.