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Recycling the Impossible for a Better Tomorrow

Updated on July 14, 2019
Angel Guzman profile image

I deeply care about the environment, and believe we can all work together to solve climate change.

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The average person produces an unexpectedly, large amount of waste in their lifetime. Basic, simple everyday tasks such as personal hygiene, travel, and eating create waste. There has been an increased public awareness of the importance, and benefits of recycling. Climate change continues to produce more erratic, extreme weather, and it’s deeply important to limit the trash inside landfills, and keep our bodies of water clean. Individuals alone can’t solve the global problem of waste management and climate change, but there is a lot of promising help on the way.


The country of Sweden has taken recycling seriously for decades. According to a New York Times story dated September 21, 2018, 49 percent of household waste is recycled, 50 percent is burned at one of 34 waste to energy power plants, and less than 1 percent arrives at a landfill. Food and organic waste is converted into fuel powering buses, garbage collection trucks, and other vehicles. Sweden has a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, and zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. In addition to brilliantly addressing its local waste management Sweden also imports trash. Trash is imported from the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, and others. Sweden is paid to accept their trash.


Single use plastics are so commonplace in everyday life, but all that waste adds up. Not all of it ends up being recycled and sadly, a lot ends up in the ocean. While very convenient to the consumer an equally convenient solution in Norway has emerged. The government taxes all producers of plastic bottles, and the more they recycle the less the tax penalty. If the company recycles more than 95 percent of their products they’re exempt of the tax. The consumer of the products can return the empty bottle to the place of purchase or a machine and receive a coupon or cash. 97 percent of all plastic drink bottles are recycled and 92 percent are put back in circulation.


Styrofoam is commonly used by the restaurant industry because of its low cost, but it has an alarming high cost to the environment. Styrofoam can take up to 500 years to break down. Luke Clay visited Central America with his family and was deeply disturbed by the high amount of styrofoam liter he saw. When he returned home, feeling inspired along with friends Ashton Cofer and Julia Bray, they worked on a solution. It took the team 50 hours of lab work but they discovered how to break down styrofoam and purify water. With some motivation and hard-work the team of Luke Clay, Ashton Cofer, and Julia Bray demonstrated the global styrofoam waste problem can be solved. The team has filed a patent, and wants to commercialize their discovery. Local governments are also taking action. Effective January 1, 2019 New York City is the largest city that has banned all single use styrofoam items in the United States. The states of Maryland and Maine have passed their respective styrofoam bans as well that will be taking effect in 2020 and 2021.


At the University of the Valley Atemajac, in Mexico, a chemical engineering professor named Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, has found a new use for one of Mexico’s most beloved plants. Prepared cactus leaves, called nopales are a common food in Mexican culture and Sandra has created a new recipe. She makes cactus juice, refrigerates it, mixes it with some natural ingredients, and it becomes a biodegradable bendable plastic that can be molded into different shapes, thickness, smoothness, and sizes. Research is being done which cactus plants are best to be converted into plastic, and a company is interested in commercializing the material. What is especially beneficial is if the plastic makes its way to a landfill or a body of water it is nontoxic and a source of food for wildlife. Other companies are looking to make a difference too with their waste. Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida three years ago introduced biodegradable and edible six-pack rings in their beer packaging. The rings are made from barley and wheat ribbons. The President of Saltwater Brewery Chris Gove hopes to inspire other beverage makers to be more conscious of the waste left behind affecting wildlife in, and out of water.


The Allbirds shoe company is a new, environmentally conscious company valued at 1.4 billion dollars transforming footwear one pair of shoes at a time. Former President Barack Obama, Ben Affleck, Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman, and Matthew McConaughey are some that have been seen wearing what Time Magazine has declared the “World’s Most Comfortable Shoe.” Allbirds makes men, women, children’s shoes made out of wool and tree fiber. The shoelaces are made from recycled bottles, the insoles castor bean oil, the soles sugarcane, and the packaging from 90 percent recycled cardboard. The entire product was clearly imagined to be as Earth-friendly as possible. Native Shoes and Everlane are two other companies making a statement with their footwear. Native is in the process of developing a shoe that is entirely biodegradable, and Everlane uses recycled plastic bottles to make its shoes.


Diapers, feminine products, and adult incontinence products were not thought of to be recyclable but one company is taking bold action. Knowaste LLC has a facility in the United Kingdom dedicated to absorbent products. The facility provides a much-needed resource for childcare centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and washroom management companies to collect and recycle unthinkable waste. An additional facility is being developed near London with Knowaste estimating handling at least 36,000 tons of absorbent product waste a year. It is believed a typical baby will use 6,000 disposable diapers before becoming potty trained at 2 ½ years old, and 15 billion annually in the United States. That is 2.4 million tons of smelly waste. A trial diaper recycling program has started in San Clarita, California but the process is expensive. Terracycle is another company that recycles diapers but they also have taken the challenge of cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are one of the most littered items, and they often end up in bodies of water through storm drains hurting wildlife. Since 2012 in over 12,000 locations worldwide, Terracycle has collected over 90 million cigarette butts. The cigarette butts are used to make park benches and shipping pallets.


Every minute countless amounts of waste and trash continue to accumulate, but there are so many different and creative ways to recycle now more than ever before. As the climate continues to become more unpredictable and erratic, protecting the environment by limiting our waste and finding new uses for recyclable material is critical. Confronted with problem there is nothing the human spirit cannot accomplish. Governments, private companies, and regular everyday people are making a difference. There is currently an ongoing global #Trashtag Challenge on social media of people posting pictures of areas littered with trash, and then an after picture after they have cleaned the area. Everyone has the ability to contribute a cleaner, healthier planet and we all deserve to live in one.


In Sweden, Trash Heats Homes, Powers Buses, and Fuels Taxi Fleets

http://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/climate/sweden-garbage-used-for-fuel.html


Swedish recycling so successful it is importing rubbish

http://www.trtworld.com/europe/swedish-recycling-so-succussful-it-is-importing-rubbish-24491/amp


Can Norway help us solve the plastic crisis, one bottle at a time?

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/12/can-norway-help-us-solve-the-plastic-crisis-one-bottle-at-a-time


These 3 Teens Figured Out a Brilliant Way to Recycle Styrofoam

http://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/teens-recycling-styrofoam-carbon-water-purificatio/


NYC’s Styrofoam ban goes into effect on January 1

http://www.timeout.com/newyork/news/nycs-styrofoam-ban-goes-into-effect-on-january-1/amp


This new biodegradable plastic is made from cactus

https://www.fastcompany.com/90365199/this-new-biodegradable-plastic-is-made-from-cactus


How to make biodegradable ‘plastic’ from cactus juice

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/stories-48497933/how-to-make-biodegradable-plastic-from-cactus-juice


Saltwater Brewery Creates Edible Six-Pack Rings

http://www.craftbeer.com/editors-picks/saltwater-brewery-creates-edible-six-pack-rings


Allbirds

http://www.allbirds.com


Obama’s New Favourite Trainer Brand Is Affordable And Good For The Planet

http://www.esquire.com/uk/style/a28113551/all-birds-leo-obama-ethical-sustainable-trainers/


Every single piece of these sneakers is made from plants

http://www.fastcompany.com/90362193/every-part-of-these-sneakers-is-made-from-a-plant


Knowaste Recycles Absorbent Hygiene Products

http://www.thebalancesmb.com/knowaste-recycles-absorbent-hygiene-products-2877867


Company Recycles Cigarette Butts and Turns Them into Useful Things Instead

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/terracycle-cigarette-butt-program/


Shocking Global Cigarette Litter Facts

http://www.verywellmind.com/world-cigarette-litter-facts-that-will-shock-you-2824735


People Are Cleaning Up The Planet in Viral #Trashtag Challenge

http://www.unilad.co.uk/viral/people-are-cleaning-up-the-planet-in-viral-trashtag-challenge/amp

What recycling is most impressive?

See results

© 2019 Angel Guzman

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    • Abecedarian profile image

      Lady Liberty 

      2 weeks ago from These United States, Texas

      Living in Germany where we recycled everything or so I thought until I was there a couple of years ago, they now recycle their cut grass and branches from cut trees and shrubs. It's amazing .

      Angel, I love this article, very interesting. We have lots of wind energy in Texas.

    • profile image

      Donna silunas 

      2 weeks ago

      Interesting article!! To think of all that waste harming our wildlife and marine life etc just makes me sick!

    • Angel Guzman profile imageAUTHOR

      Angel Guzman 

      3 weeks ago from Joliet, Illinois

      Vivian you were a liberal tree hugger, lol. Thats not a bad thing. We all want and deserve a clean, sustainable community. I thank you for your public service and especially the environment of the community you graciously helped :)

    • Noelle7 profile image

      Vivian Coblentz 

      3 weeks ago

      Angel,

      I typically balk at "environmentalists" because they tend to be left-wingers who care more about the environment than they do humanity. However, I'm all for being "good stewards," and recycling is a great way to take care of what God has given us. Believe it or not, once upon a time, I used to be the Recycling & Litter Prevention director for a county government agency. It was very rewarding to keep our county clean, educate area students, get residents on board with recycling, and help communities secure grant funding for recycled playground equipment in their parks, plus a host of other good things we did for the community WITHOUT being liberal tree huggers.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad 

      3 weeks ago

      Ken

      What about intentionally and unintentionally allowing waste from rivers going into the ocean.

      And why should rivers add to the Ocean waters when they could be pipelined to areas in the country that are arid.

      There must be a fair amount of money that is the difference between the 5 and 10 cents assessment for water and plastic bottles that were created to make people to recycle. Yet we see all these bottles still being thrown away. That money should be used to capture these bottles and send them to be recycled. I hope I explained that so it could make sense.

      I have seen some reports that say our recycling collectors, the people that pick up our trash, and recycle don't always send their collection to a recycling center. Many times they just add them to the trash dumps.

      The government doesn't control the recycle pick up and sending it to a recycle plant, they give control to the trash collection companies. This is one area where we could do better.

      Sorting through mixed material recyclables is another area that could be better served.

      Bring back the old and forgotten paper drives. Make it profitable for the people or organizations to do it by giving them a piece of the action.

      The same thing could be done for plastic bottles, glass bottles,and aluminum cans etc.

      The big saving is there is no need to sort.

      This would be a synergistic approach to recycling?

      --------------

      As for ICE to EV

      That brings another recycling issue, as does Solar Panels when they no longer function. More things to recycle.

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      3 weeks ago from Florida

      An important issue that is swept under the rug in America far too often.

      So much time is wasted propagating the Climate Change Crisis, but after reading hundreds of articles and books on the matter, and learning about everything from Solar Flares and Nova Pulses to Polar Shifts and Volcanic Activity I can say confidently we cannot control Climate Change and we cannot control Global Warming.

      What we CAN control is pollution, we can stop destroying our drinking water by fracking in well populated areas. We can stop destroying ocean wildlife (and our greatest source of food) by not dumping plastics/waste into the oceans. We can make it a national policy to recycle, I have seen the difference a 5 cents deposit makes on bottles, in NY where they have it compared to FL where they do not.

      We can focus on Pollution, including getting away from ICE vehicles and moving to EVs... but the hysteria being created about Climate Change is disturbing, politicians want to use it as an excuse for more taxes and more control over our lives, and sadly many people buy into it.

    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 

      4 weeks ago from Ireland

      Its great to see so many countries tackling and looking at new ways to stop their country from polluting the enviroment.

      I can't wait to see when they develop those straws from the cactus plant. The paper ones just aren't the same. :(

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad 

      5 weeks ago

      If we could get clean energy from burning trash, that would solve are clean energy goal.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 weeks ago from UK

      This is a topic which is constantly in the news in the UK at the moment and rightly so. Your article brings to light schemes being adopted to combat the issue. I have seen a report of a diaper recycling company in Italy. The UK has a lot to learn and a lot of catching up to do in recycling. I only hope the efforts made are not too little too late to save the environment.

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