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Reducing Our Use

By Isabella Espejo

About four months ago, I began working at the supermarket chain Trader Joe’s, and as the amount of times I walked in to work increased, so did my realization of how much waste is produced when dealing with packaged food. The boxes food in which food is delivered, the plastic packaging it is wrapped in, and even the paper bag I hand the customers as they set off home all contribute to waste. This realization piqued my interest in finding out more about the environmental impact of single use waste.

As a company, Trader Joe’s is very good about striving to reduce their use of plastic. They no longer give out plastic bags and they are changing the backings of our pricing labels as to reduce their use even more. But I found that we often uses recycling to justify our constant consumption of paper and cardboard, yet rarely do we ever question where the wastes lands.

Upon research, I discovered that the United States used to mostly export much of its recycling to other countries, mainly China. But ever since January 1st, China has put a ban on recycling imports. This brought up another question: what are we doing with all the excess waste now, and what can we do to slow it down?

As I delved deeper into the subject, I came across an article published by The Atlantic titled “Is This the End of Recycling?" Its main point is that making recycled plastics is more expensive than creating new plastics with even the transfer fees increased from $6 a ton to $125 a ton in Franklin, New Hampshire. The reason? Improper recycling.

Improper recycling renders useless the items we tend to recycle. The reason is clear when one considers a greasy pizza box. Sure, the box may be cardboard, but since the cardboard is treated with water, it cannot be re-purposed properly. Sorting through recycling is the solution to this, but because improper recycling has become a habit among the citizens of the United States, it is harder to fix.

In Charles Duhigg’s New York Times Bestseller The Power Of Habit, the author breaks down how habits are created and sustained. Habits are often comprised in five parts: a cue, a routine, a reward, a craving, and a belief. If we look at this through the lens of aspirational recycling, it makes sense. The cue, space being consumed by plastic, cardboard and any other recyclable, is taken care of by the routine of recycling, and is rewarded by decluttering. The habit persists for the craving to make space and feel cleaner and the belief that you are doing something good for the world. However, with recycling being rendered useless and the people we depended on treating our recycling no longer there, we are believing in false pretenses, leaving much of our waste in landfills or up in flames.

In learning all this information it got me wondering: what happens to the waste in my city? I called into one of the local recycling yards, but to my surprise and disappointment, I got very minimal information. It was almost as if the very people managing and working for these programs knew as little as I did. I only got somewhat of an answer when I reached out to Yonkers Waste Management and was told that they send waste elsewhere for someone else to handle, or they burn it for fuel.

In closing, I found it frustrating trying to learn this information. The route to answers was convoluted, even for the very people managing and working for these programs. The upshot is that we do a lot of reusing and recycling but not enough reducing. One day, maybe in the near future, Earth won't be able to sustain humans and our excessive waste.

Isabella Espejo is a senior at WPHS, an environmentalist, and a student in Ms. LoScalzo's journalism class.

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