by Sara Fraser
Maybe the more important question is “Why did SMS stop recycling?”
Sara is the President of the Environmental Club.
On the first day of school I was forced to throw away a piece of paper, not put it in the recycling bin. St. Mary’s, the forward thinking, eco-friendly institution I had grown to love had taken away one of the things I took for granted: recycling.
Assuming that our school surely had a good reason behind their change to unsustainable waste removal, I did some digging and realized that we were, in fact, not the anomaly. Our recycling company had discontinued recycling for all corporations in the Memphis area. But the main problem isn’t that recycling at SMS has been discontinued, it is that China, the country that we have been dumping all of our waste on, is fed up.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans recycle about 66 million tons of material each year, and about one third of that material is exported. We have been taking the whole process for granted: our ability to print out five copies of our essays, throw four in the recycling bin, and never see those pieces of paper again, while another country has to deal with the full weight of our non-eco friendly actions.
Historically, China has been the biggest processor of the world’s waste, processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste paper, metals, and used plastic in 2016. But, with China’s ban more than a year ago on 24 materials, including waste textile materials and unsorted waste paper, the country is trying to protect themselves against pollution. In addition, China added 34 more materials to the list in April.
Obviously, the lack of storage for recycled goods is creating havoc for waste-management companies who are now no longer getting paid for collecting and removing recycling, but having to pay someone to take it.
The only positive side to the issue is the fact that Americans are being forced to consider what exactly they are recycling. According to the New York Times, “Some waste managers say that China’s new contamination standards are impossible to meet, while others are trying to clean up their recycling streams by slowing down their processing facilities, limiting the types of materials they accept or trying to better educate customers on what belongs in the recycling bin.”
We now have to wonder what the future of the world’s recycling looks like. Wealthier countries, like the United States, need to face the fact that they can no longer dump their unwanted waste in other countries, and that present methods are completely unsustainable.
There is an opportunity here for the United States to create their own environmentally friendly recycling processing system. In the meantime, we at St. Mary’s are still without recycling; however, there are steps we can take to fulfill the “reduce, reuse” parts of the motto.
We could all do a better job of keeping the environment in mind throughout our day to day actions; it's as easy as avoiding unnecessary printing, using reusable plastic containers when possible, and carrying around a personal water bottle. We are guests on this planet, so, let us treat it with the respect it deserves!