Reusable vs. recycleable

Do you know where that blue can of mixed recyclables goes every two weeks?

Much of it goes to China, but that may end in January. In July, China informed the World Trade Organization that it would ban “imports of 24 types of recycled materials including various plastics (PET, PE, PVC and PS), as well as unsorted mixed paper, textiles, and some trace metals. And according to Beijing, starting in January every waste container entering China is to be inspected for contaminated materials”, according to Bloomberg BNA. Much of the recycling we send is contaminated, meaning that it’s mixed with other recyclables or garbage. When it get to the Chinese processing plants, it requires people to pick through it, and the garbage has to be disposed of in China—after being trucked and shipped all the way from the U.S.

What does this mean for the U.S. consumer? The cost of recycling will go up, some materials will no longer be accepted, and many municipalities may drop it entirely rather than accept increased costs and requiring users to sort their recyclables.

Of course, the final rules haven’t been decided and may well change, but not much.

And those bags of clothes some people take to the thrift store? Several East African countries don’t want that anymore. The U.S. shipped 740,826 tons worldwide in 2016, and it kills the local clothing markets in areas where it’s shipped. While an abrupt stop won’t happen because of opposition of the resellers locally and U.S. pressure at the country level, a slow cut-off might be successful.

So recycling is no longer an obvious solution; reducing and reusing are going to look better and better. I’ve got a few items that I used that might help.

  • Reusable zip-close bags: I use these in place of quart Ziploc™ bags. They are freezer, microwave, and oven safe because they are made of food-grade silicone. So far they’ve worked great.
  • Re-pac gallon bags: Fabric on the outside lined with nylon, these work great for the dogs’ Kong toys, which I stuff with pumpkin and dry and canned dog food, and freeze them; that idea was from a friend. I can get about five medium Kongs per bag and zip them up so they are contained.
  • Hankies, napkins, and “unpaper” towels are easily brought home from your local thrift store. After-holiday sales can get you an entire set for less than $10 dollars, and I mean 12 linen and cotton napkins and 10 good dishtowels. My hankies are flannel from SeaAndSandHomeDesign; the patterns are just so cute! I use them as napkins for lunch, in my purse for whatever, and of course as tissues.
Photo is from SeaAndSandHomeDesign on Etsy
  • I use cardboard as garden mulch to keep the weeds down, but I recycle the newspaper. I could feed that to the earthworms, but it must be shredded and soaked. However, I just recently learned that oyster mushrooms can be grown on newspaper and cardboard—year-round—inside… Hit up Mushroom Mountain for spawn and instructions.
  • Of course, food waste can go to the worms or the compost, as can natural-fiber clothing. Have you heard about farmers’ tidy whiteys being used to determine soil health?
  • In warm weather, meat, oily, and dairy waste can be fed to black soldier flies. I’m not ready to throw such waste out in the woods in winter, so maybe that will have to be garbage.
  • As for clothes—first off, don’t buy so much! Cheap fashion is its own hell. From growing and manufacturing to shipping and throwing out, it’s an ecological and social disaster. Buy it like your food: local, high quality, and just enough.
  • There’s several Pinterest posts and such for a capsule wardrobe, which contains the bare minimum of mix-and-match clothes for all your work and social needs for a season. I used this idea when I started a new job in April, using what I could from my closet plus three new shirts, all in shades of grey, black, white, or Oxford blue. I only washed them every other wearing or so, and wear them every week. One has just now gotten a couple of holes in it.

I’ll post more later, but you get the idea; just think about what you buy each week, look at how much garbage you throw out each week, and reduce or switch some little thing each week. There are people who can fit all their true garbage (after reducing and recycling) for two years in a mason jar!

For more information…

China’s official statement to the World Trade Organization, 18 July 2017

China Daily news article “Pollution action plan detailed” by Zheng Jinran, 2017-07-28

Here’s a list of zero-waste ideas for beginners.

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