Reduce, reuse, recycle: In that order

cartoon by Ricky Rivera.

As information surfaces about the horrible condition of our environment, people turn to recycling for answers. How do we save the oceans? Recycling. How do we cut down on the overflow of trash on the planet? Recycling.

The issue with recycling is that it’s not enough to sufficiently help the environment anymore.

For the most part, recycling has been simple. When you finish drinking a bottle of water, you put the bottle in the can with a green lid instead of a black lid, and when you empty your groceries from the plastic bags, you put the bags in the recycling bin. People know how to recycle, and they’ve gotten good at doing so. However, the number of recyclables that people dispose of is too much for the processing plants to handle.

Recycling plants in the United States used to send a large portion of their consumer waste to China for treatment and recycling. At the end of 2017, new rules were issued against foreign countries shipping their wastes to China, according to

The rules for waste shipment affected recycling in the U.S. in a negative way. Recycling plants sort through such an abundance of waste that they can’t recycle as much plastic as people are using.

Another issue that runs rampant in recycling plants is the number of contaminated recyclables that can’t be repurposed. Many people recycle plastics containing garbage or other nonrecyclable materials. So, the factories end up throwing away a good portion of the materials that were meant to be recycled.

As upsetting as this is, your time hasn’t been wasted if you have been recycling and there are still some things you can do. Recycling should be an afterthought when it comes to saving the environment. I’m sure you have all heard the mantra — reduce, reuse, recycle — at some point in your life but that is also the order in which people should prioritize their environmental efforts.

For starters — reduce.  Cutting back on the amount of meat and dairy people eat is important. Greenhouse gas emissions is one of the largest factors that has contributed to climate change and, according to, “much of those emissions can be attributed to the production of meat and dairy products, for which demand is on the rise.”

Scaling back on plastic use can be as simple as buying a water filter for the kitchen tap and using a reusable bag for groceries instead of the plastic ones they provide at the store. It can also be beneficial to reuse clothes. There are many stores, such as Goodwill, that sell used clothes and people can even donate their unwanted clothes to these stores.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t recycle. Recycling is important and is much better than throwing plastics and glass in the garbage. However, reducing and reusing before recycling would be the preferred way to help the environment.

Even though recycling has hit a roadblock, there is still progress being made. After China placed strict rules on the import of waste shipments in 2017, people have been working to improve recycling methods.

Recycling plants have popped up across the country and machines have been adapted to sort out the nonrecyclable materials from the recyclables.

At some point in the future, recycling may have a more reliable system for managing waste and improving the environment, but for now it’s best that we remain mindful of what we can do before we resort to recycling.


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