If you have kids, you know it can be very exciting to watch the garbage truck roll through. Unfortunately for one Chicago resident, watching the garbage truck just made them feel like trash.
“Waste Management tosses my building’s recycling in with trash,” they captioned their post. “Truck pulls up out back, guy dumps the recycling bin into the truck, then dumps our dumpster in it immediately after … What the hell, Waste Management!?!?”
It’s an unsettling scene, to say the least, but one that has played out in other neighborhoods. Whether the garbage collector was following protocols or going rogue to save time, it’s incredibly frustrating for those of us who spend our valuable time cleaning and separating recycling items from the trash.
“Their trucks say ‘What if nothing was considered waste?’” they continued. “So far we’re at ‘What if everything was considered waste?’”
Unfortunately, that is the case far more often than not. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 23% of waste generated in 2018 was recycled. MIT Technology Review reported that only 9% of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled.
Plastic pollution is a particularly perplexing problem. The 91% of plastic that hasn’t been recycled typically ends up in one of three scenarios:
- It gets incinerated, which releases a range of toxic gases, heavy metals, and particles that are bad for our health and contribute to the rapid overheating of our planet.
- It gets sent to landfills — 27 million tons of it in 2018 — where it sits for decades or even centuries.
- It ends up in nature, where it creates all sorts of problems for wildlife before eventually breaking down into microplastics that can end up in our bodies.
The term “plastic” describes many different types of materials, some of which are much harder to recycle than others. So, plastic is often just not recyclable, even when it has a recycling symbol on it. But when entire bins of recycling are combined with trash, that means metals and glass and paper products too — materials that are much more recyclable and thus more definitively wasted.
Some people in the comments section were equally disappointed but not surprised by what the OP witnessed.
One person trashed the company while also offering possible reasons for what the original poster witnessed. “They are a shady company,” they said, before pointing out that it was possible the garbage collectors didn’t have a choice. “If there is food or something mixed in with the recycling the whole thing becomes garbage in this city.”
Along those lines, a Waste Management executive told The New York Times in 2018 that 25% of all recycling is “contaminated to the point it is sent to landfills.” And the Times detailed how the plastic problem has worsened since China banned importing plastics in late 2017, leaving the United States with limited options for processing plastics, a problem some commenters discussed on the Reddit post.
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