First, let me start off by clarifying something. I am not an “environmentalist”, nor am I a scientist. I am simply a mom, trying to do the best I can for my kids. Except, that there’s nothing much simple about being a mom. It is a life of macro and micro thinking, long term and short term and instantaneous decision-making, a life of responsibility. Being a mom has been a lesson in responsibility for me. For example, I did not start out caring any more than the next person about the particular issue of recycling. I recycled for the most part, but I wasn’t hyper vigilant about it. I assumed, as I think most of us generally do, that America is on top of recycling and is making leaps and bounds in terms of more efficient waste management. That is until I began traveling around the country with my husband and our 3 kids. My husband works on locations frequently. If we want to be together as a family we must join him, or not see him for months at a time. We stay in hotels and residence inns, for months on end.
As I am sure most of you are aware, the trashcans in hotel rooms are tiny and fill up quickly, so I am ALWAYS taking out the trash. Well, of course, I ask about recycling at each hotel we’ve stayed in, from Louisiana to Georgia, Arkansas to New Mexico. Each time I’ve been met with a polite “No”, or even in the case of a few housekeeping staff, an actual snicker, as if they were thinking, “This isn’t California, hippy.” It’s true that living in a place like California, it’s easy to believe the illusion that America is all doing their civic duty to reduce, reuse, and recycle. And I accepted that maybe
not everyone is on the same page, “Oh, well they just haven’t dealt with recycling here yet. It’s not THAT big a deal…Right?” And I proceeded to throw my trash in the little bins, and empty them every day.
Soon, I got a little irritated though, “This is a lot of bottles, cans and cardboard,” I thought. “They could easily be recycled.” And I began to take the extra step to collect my recyclables and look for municipal recycling bins or centers, where I could properly dispose of them. But then I began to think about the hundreds of rooms in each of these hotels, and the thousands of patrons who occupy them each year. Not all of them are taking these extra measures and at once not one of them is even being presented with the OPTION to recycle. At that point, I went beyond being irritated and started getting pissed…”I have 3 kids!! Who are these hotels to be making a profit while they stack up solid waste on MY kids’ planet?!? How hard is it to implement a systemic recycling program when you profit in the billions??”
I didn’t like that feeling; that these industries, hospitality, fast food and coffee chains, and the like are basically “punking” my kids and stealing their world from
them, without the slightest inclination to be held accountable. If someone were to come in your home and start wrecking shit and trashing the place, wouldn’t you have a right to press charges and hold them accountable?? Same principle here…
“Going Green!” it’s the catch phrase of the day, perhaps the era. And it should be. We all know and understand the concept of “unsustainable practices”, and so we do our duty as good concerned citizens. We buy our Priuses (despite the lack of an effective, safe means of EV and hybrid battery disposal, and the fact that they require the consumption of 2 separate fossil fuels to operate, but that’s a whole other story), and of course we all do our best to recycle, all the time. Well…most of the time. I mean it’s not like we deliberately didn’t recycle that plastic bottle or soda can we chugged on our way back from lunch, or on a walk through the mall. We simply didn’t see and/or didn’t have time to find, a recycling bin. It’s just one bottle or can. And how about all those cardboard containers, and plastic cups and paper wrappers from our fast food takeout? Or the packaging our kids’ toys come wrapped in, often, a mountain of plastic and cardboard 3 times the mass and volume of the toy itself. Odds are, we either don’t think about recycling those items, don’t want to take the time to separate them out or just as likely ask that, we simply aren’t consistently presented with a properly designated recycling bin, that’s at the same time easily accessible (what are Americans, if not lovers of easy access?).
Despite some major gains made, by the success of a variety of municipal recycling campaigns, recycling is for most of us, not the law. It is still very much reliant on voluntary effort within individual municipalities, and the effort of the individual. And, let’s face it, recycling can be hard, time consuming and inconvenient. It’s just this one can, this one bottle, this one box… just this one time, and I’m just one person…I’ll recycle next time, I promise.
So I decided to do a little research and look at the actual numbers to see how that “one little can or plastic bottle” actually stacks up. What I quickly discovered horrified me (it is CRUCIAL you read to the end of the list, there’s a serious twist). Here goes. Did you know:
The US sends the equivalent of 82,000 football fields at a depth of 30 feet, to landfills every year.
Over 7 billion pounds of PVC are thrown away in the U.S. each year. Only 18 million pounds of that, about one quarter of 1 percent, is recycled.
Although recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy required to manufacture new ones, only around 50% of all cans are actually recycled.
The average American produces 4.5 lbs. of trash per day. This equates to on average of 9.24 times our own body weight in trash produced by each of us, every year.
Only the equivalent of 1.6 lbs. of trash per person per day is recycled, or around 30% of the trash we are producing.
Part of the problem is a lack of accountability amongst the corporations that are leading the charge for encouraging disposable waste, like the hospitality, coffee chain and fast food industries.
Recycling for the most part remains unlegislated except for a few examples, like Philadelphia, New York, & California.
Around 54% of a hotel’s solid waste can either be recycled or reused.
Removing paper, plastic and other recyclables from the garbage, hotels can trim their waste disposal bill by as much as 50 percent
Only 40% of all hotels actually have recycling programs
The average quantity of unsorted waste materials for Radisson SAS hotels was reported as 6.82 lbs. per guest night in 2002. On the other hand, Scandic Hotels, which has an extensive waste management program, reported an average of 1.13lbs of unsorted waste per guest per night
It’s dangerous to believe that just because some businesses, cities, industries and individuals are working to recycle and reduce and reuse, that all of them are. For example there are stark differences between how recycling is handled and manifests in places like Arkansas & Louisiana, versus California or New York City.
All in all only some 30% of all solid waste produced in the US ends up being recycled. The other 70% or 175 million tons ends up in landfills.
Landfills have a system for storing waste that has already been repeatedly shown to be faulty.
Landfills are typically lined with layers of clay and plastic liners, which are supposed to prevent leachate seepage into the surrounding environment. These plastic layers, over time are shown to routinely fail and breakdown due to simple exposure to household chemicals.
For a 10-acre landfill this can mean allowing between .2 and 10 gallons of leachate (i.e. toxic wastewater) to escape into the ground, per day.
In 2008, only 23.1% of glass disposed of was recycled, and only 7.1% of plastics and 21.1% of aluminum.
About 31% of solid waste generated in the US in 2008 was containers and packaging, or nearly 77 million tons. Only 43.7% of that was recycled.
There is over $300 billion worth of trade deficit between the US and China each year (guess who’s winning).
The US imports $456.5 billion from China each year. Much of which are consumer goods packaged heavily in wastepaper.
The majority of that waste paper packaging is not recycled and we in fact turn around AND pay the Chinese to dispose of it for us.
THE NUMBER 1 U.S. EXPORT TO CHINA IS TRASH
The US exports $8billion worth of trash, mostly wastepaper and scrap metal, to China every year to be disposed of.
There are 19,355 “incorporated places” i.e. cities in the US, but only 9,000 community curbside recycling programs.
Next time you are in a hotel or a Starbuck’s or a McDonald’s look around for a recycling canister; if you don’t see one take a pic and post it to twitter, fb or instagram under #trashsanity.
Recycling isn’t just something that we’ve accomplished and can now get complacent about. Recycling programs have increased by 100% since the 90′s, but they would have to QUADRUPLE that just to break even with the trash we are CURRENTLY producing, not to mention what’s already been dumped and what’s to come, as our planet’s population continues to climb, and with it consumption. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to ensure proper waste disposal, reduction, reuse and recycling.
When we begin to also take consideration of the “China Factor”, it quickly turns into an issue of our virtual patriotic duty to recycle. The future of our Nation, Our Planet and Children depends upon personal vigilance and work by all of us to take responsibility and hold ourselves accountable in the effort to Reduce consumption and Reuse and Recycle wherever and whenever possible. As we do so, we must simultaneously hold the people and companies that are responsible for the greatest amount of waste output, to correspondingly offer conscientious waste management and systemic recycling programs.
With our current waste management and landfill system we are literally trying to sweep our problems under a rug… and the thing I’ve found about doing that: it just makes for a dirty house.
This is what I currently have to go through to recycle at a Marriott hotel in Atlanta. Pay attention to the conversation at 2:15. Please share and sign the petition. The link to the petition below is the start of my personal crusade to encourage responsible waste management by the country’s leading trash producers. Our number 1 export to China is trash, $8 billion worth of it every year. We are making our #1 creditor richer by hiring them to take out the garbage, even as they are taking our jobs.
We need to stop poisoning the planet and our country’s future. Starting with this video of my own first hand experience, with trying to recycle in yet another Marriott hotel without a recycling program. I am no environmental expert, but I am a mother of 3 kids ages 4, 2 & 5 months, and I truly feel that I must DO SOMETHING, to end the unsustainable practice of pumping disposable waste into our landfills or paying China to dispose of materials that can easily be recycled. There are many other excessive producers of waste, in the customer service, hospitality and restaurant industries that are next on my list to be petitioned. However, I am starting here with what I have already gone through first hand, simply trying to be a responsible citizen, and more importantly a conscientious mother.
Sources:My Personal Experience Alexander 2002 Bohdanowicz 2005 cleanair.org Essential Guide EPA Environmental Justice Greenhotelier, 2004 NY Times science.howstuffworks.com us.census.gov Wikipedia