No, David, no!
David! Be Quiet!
Don’t play with your food!
I said no, David!
Davey, come here.
I love you!
from No, David!
written and illustrated by David Shannon
Blue Sky Press, 1998
I don’t remember it this way, but I think my childhood was fraught with negativity. Here are some phrases I remember:
Give a hoot! Don’t pollute.
Just say no!
No pain, no gain.
Don’t forget to brush your teeth.
Where are all the positive statements? I just don’t know. But with Earth Day in the rearview mirror (April 22 each year) and the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day coming up this Friday, April 29 (always the last Friday in April), I started thinking about this Earth we share. My thoughts tend to travel down the path to recycling, so I decided to investigate how that’s working out; I’ll call it The Great American Recycling Experiment. If that sounds a bit skeptical, it is. I’m trying to stay positive, but, that childhood. Hmmm.
In November 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a 60 page downloadable booklet filled with lots of goals and objectives to make our recycling system more economically circular. From the EPA booklet, “A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by design.” It is the opposite of the linear system we have now. That kind of system mines, harvests, or extracts resources, makes stuff, then throws most of it away. The object of the circular economy is to use less materials and re-use more, so there’s less to throw away.
The booklet is full of goals and objectives, color photos, and charts. To give you an idea of the contents, here’s the last part of the first paragraph of the introductory letter. “…it’s time to transform the United States recyling (sic) system.”
Two good things come immediately to mind. First, the government is aware of pollution (air, land, and water), energy waste, and inefficiencies. And second, government workers are studying the multi-faceted problem and writing about it. (I only found that one typo.)
ComfyLiving.net, a website that advises consumers on remodeling and redecorating projects, has weighed in on consumer issues regarding recycling. I found some interesting facts on a page they call “29 Recycling Statistics We Need to Be Aware of in 2022.” Here's the link.
- In 2018, (the latest available data from the EPA) the recycling rate was 32.1%.
- Of that 32.1%, metals made up about 12.62%, plastics about 4.5%.
- About 68% of paper is recycled.
- Every 3-foot-high stack of newspaper that’s recycled can spare a tree.
- About 1 billion (1,000,000,000) plastic bags were used in the US every day in 2014. (No wonder so many flap like stuck birds fluttering in branches along the highways.)
- People around the world buy 20,000 plastic bottles every second. We use 50 billion in the US every year.
- Only about 12% of the plastic generated is recycled.
- Plastic needs about 1,000 years to degrade if it’s thrown in a landfill or lays in the gutter or lands on your lawn.
- By 2050 (less than 30 years from now) the oceans will have more plastic in them than fish.
But much more than money is involved in keeping ourselves and our planet healthy.
There are many reasons to reduce, re-use, and recycle. Recycled materials can replace raw materials so there’s less need for mining, cutting down trees, and other extraction processes. Recycling reduces the amount of raw materials needed to be processed, and statistics confirm it. Recycling solid waste reduces air and water pollution.
But Reduce (use less stuff) Reuse (up-cycle, keep single use items and make something else from them) Recycle (put your stuff in the correct bin, after you make sure it is clean and really is what can be accepted) only goes so far.
My fourth R is Refuse. Refuse styrofoam, especially. Also Refuse single-use plastic bags, bottles, straws, single-serving sized anything. REDUCE the amount you buy in the first place. RE-USE whatever you can. When you RECYCLE, play by the rules. Some areas separate cans, glass, and paper. Rinse cans and bottles. Only put in containers what your recycling center allows. They can’t take everything. When we play by the rules, everyone wins.
Remember my fourth R: REFUSE. (And remember you heard it here first!)
Did you know that if you stress the first syllable of a word you have a noun, but if you stress the second syllable, it’s a verb. So contest/contest, object/object, refuse/refuse are called heteronyms. Here’s a whole list from the University of Michigan.
If you refuse the single-use throw-away thing-y you’re offered, it will NOT become refuse.
Chief Seattle might have been the first to say, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
A little later, Kofi Annan quoted an African proverb, “The world is not ours, the Earth is not ours. It's a treasure we hold in trust for future generations. And I often hope we will be worthy of that trust.”
-—stay curious! (and use less plastic!)