Paper and cardboard recycling presents different challenges from steel and aluminum cans and glass. Unlike these materials, paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. As paper is recycled, the fibers in the paper become shorter and shorter. Eventually, the fibers become too short and can no longer be used in making new paper products.
Recycling paper has become more difficult in the past few years. For many years, China took the vast majority of American recyclables for processing. Then, a few years ago, China stopped taking our trash. I guess they decided they were having enough trouble dealing with their own garbage. Evidently, China was paying well for our garbage. When the Chinese market for our recyclables shut down, things were really a mess. Nobody would pay their prices, and there was a huge scramble for new places to send the trash. Things are still pretty messed up. And paper and cardboard are really a problem.
Paper and cardboard need to be clean in order to be recycled. They cannot be contaminated with food, or grease in particular. If a piece of paper or cardboard in a batch is contaminated, the whole batch is contaminated. And here’s the thing. In this country, we use single stream recycling. That means we put all our recyclables in the same bin. The potential for contamination of paper products is high when different materials are mixed.
According to Athens Services, the company that deals with our trash, cardboard and paper are being shipped overseas. This is because there are not enough mills for processing recycled paper in the US; the sheer amount of paper and cardboard we are sending for recycling has outstripped our capacity to process it domestically.
For the past 3 weeks, we have left our paper and cardboard out of our recycling bin to see just how much we waste we generate. WOW!!! It’s HORRIFYING!! The amount of cardboard and other paper and plastic waste from the things we are buying on-line is AWFUL! I know that with Covid we have increased our use of Amazon, but seriously! IT’S TIME TO STOP!
As the Covid pandemic has worn on – and on, and on, and on – we know more now about how people contract the virus. While my husband and I are both considered “at risk” due to advanced age (I am rolling my eyes in disgust), it does seem that it is pretty safe to go out into the world for brief excursions, as long as we wear masks, wash hands, etc. In truth, we have gotten so used to the convenience of on-line shopping, that it is hard to turn the clock back to an earlier time. I think it is safe at this point to be out in the world, of course paying attention to wearing a mask and avoiding crowds, and starting again to do routine shopping in person and locally that we have been doing on-line since the pandemic started. Carefully returning to pre-Covid shopping habits will help decrease cardboard waste and all of the other packaging waste and energy expenditure that goes along with on-line shopping and in-home delivery. Of course, this approach may need to change depending upon the guidance given by State and local public health authorities.
I am channeling Nancy Reagan here – words I NEVER thought I would write! – when I say that we are trying to adopt a JUST SAY NO! attitude toward on-line shopping in the interest of decreasing the cardboard that comes into our home. Wish us luck!