By Katie Rosengren
“Can this be recycled?” I ask my husband, Cole, while holding up some object or other. This happens probably once a week in my house, as I decide what to do with the inevitable refuse that we come across in our modern lives. More often than I’d like, the answer is no. Or at the very least, not in our curbside pick up.
I’ve been recycling most of my life, so much so that it has become habit to throw my plastics, glass, and cardboard into a bin and wish it well as it makes its journey toward a new life. My perspective changed, however, when Cole became a full time journalist covering trash and recycling for a trade publication. Suddenly, I had an in house expert who knew what happened to our discarded items after they left our possession and it was far more nuanced than I could have imagined. What I had been doing my whole life was “wish-cycling,” throwing things in my recycling bin and hoping that the recycling powers that be would make it into something new. Empowered with this new information, every trip to the grocery store became a game to find the items I wanted with the least packaging, or the least offensive.
With the recent wave of straw bans invading my Instagram feed, I found myself being irked for a reason it took me a while to identify. On its face, going without a straw or finding an alternative to single use plastic is something I would be on board with. I even bought myself a pack of the silicone variety at Target to throw in my bag. The breaking point, however, came when I saw Starbucks’ solution; a lidded cup that created even more plastic waste. Yes, a plastic cup is recyclable and a straw is not. But for far too long, we have found a false optimism in our recycling bins. Our culture relies far too heavily on one use items and no amount of recycling can fix that. I see the straw ban as a way for people to pat themselves on the back without taking a hard look at their own habits.
When I was little, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was the messaging of the day. I’m not sure where we got off track, but recycling shouldn’t be our end goal for every object, because a lot of what we consume just isn’t recyclable. So, yes, please, if you are able, find an alternative to a disposable plastic straws. But straws only account for a fraction of 1% of plastic waste, so plan your self congratulations accordingly. We need to change the throw away culture we live in, and to do that, we need to take a hard look at our choices. That’s not a flashy solution to post about on Instagram, I know, but that’s all we’ve got.