How the heck are we even supposed to recycle?

Courtesy of Unsplash | Amid growing confusion and skepticism, it has never been more difficult to recycle.


Troy Smajda | Staff Columnist

I love recycling. It is one of the few things that I do during my day that makes me feel like I’m helping my future, the planet’s future and everyone else’s future who is stuck on this rock. I believe it is one of the most honest and effective ways to create tangible change in the world around us.

Take my mother for example: born in the ’60s and not very well-versed in recycling. That is until the last few years when I saw the horrifying effects of climate change and devoted myself to trying to keep the earth clean for me and everyone around me.

My mom saw the extensive efforts I was making to sort everything we throw away and make sure everything that was recyclable got recycled. She was so inspired by me and my constant reminders that I’m not just doing it for me, but for my kids who will be her grandkids and their kids and all the kids that come after all of us.

Now she uses eco-friendly sponges, buys plant-based meat substitutes and (God bless her) she takes every plastic thing we might throw away and sorts it for me. She even sorts single-use plastics from fast-food restaurants among an array of other things.

Her devotion has been so inspiring to me, and the repercussions have been more than tangible.

I save all my plastic bags, plastic wraps, plastic packaging, any type of plastic that can be taken at a grocery store bag recycling and combine it with what she has saved for me, and I show up to Giant Eagle with an entire carload full of plastic — all of which would’ve been thrown into a landfill or drifted into the ocean.

Now, sure I get some funny looks from the employees, but if it means keeping piles of non-biodegradable plastic from ending somewhere it shouldn’t, it helps me sleep at night.

My point is that I have taken my devotion to helping the earth and multiplied it by two, and even three now by getting my brother involved (we’re still chipping away at my dad). And everyone can do that! It wasn’t hard, I just talked to people openly and understandingly about it and now I can see real, tangible change in what my family sends to a landfill. Posting on your Instagram story about climate change and doing your own part to recycle is important and needed, but for the earth’s sake, actually talk to real people you know about it and create tangible change.

Now, that may help answer your question, “How can I recycle?” However, this article is more about, “How the heck can we recycle?” I admit that it is so unnecessarily confusing and esoteric to be able to effectively recycle, and that needs to change.

I mean, there are only two types of plastic that you can actually recycle from your house (types 1 and 2, very creative jobs by the recycling people), and the other types — such as cardboard — you usually have to take to a recycling center. And who the heck wants to do that? How do you even find the right recycling center? Who is in charge of all this? Last but not least, why is this all so confusing? I wish I knew.

It is hard to raise awareness and get people to commit to a cause if the cause confuses people, and I totally see that side of the argument. That is why the whole system needs to be revamped.

Why are there so many types of plastics? Probably because vastly different plastics are needed for different things, but for consumers who have no information on what to do with these plastics, can we maybe stick to one type of plastic that is universally recyclable? Why does my Chick-fil-A order involve every type of plastic from type 1-5? Maybe, and hear me out, there could just be one. Then, nobody would be confused.

I realize that is an ultra-simplification, but maybe that’s what the solution to our country’s garbage and recycling problem needs to be: simple. It would make it a lot easier for me, my mother, anyone concerned about the Earth and those who are just plain old confused about recycling to actually be able to recycle. I believe it is crucial for our sake, and for our kids’ sake, that we all figure out how the heck to recycle.