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Beyond Recycling: Consume Less, Smile More

April 25, 2019

By Jessica Coe

As an environmental consultant and friend of Cocofloss founder, Cat Cu, I’ve thought a lot about what we in the Cocofloss community can do to keep our footprint on the planet light. Recycling packaging may seem like an easy first step. In reality, our recycling system has recently gotten kind of gummed up.

 

Recycling is complicated


For decades, the U.S. and other nations exported the majority of their recyclables — tons and tons of it — to China to be made into new products, like packaging, clothing, carpets — you name it. Unfortunately, the recyclables we were sending were pretty dirty, full of rotting food and other contaminants.

We were essentially sending China garbage and asking them to deal with it. In response, at the end of 2017,China banned the import of all recyclable materials except those with an extremely low contamination rate, a contamination rate that the U.S. and other countries have mostly been unable to meet.

Overall, recycling is still preferable to tossing stuff in landfills. It’s definitely better to repurpose materials that we’ve already pulled from the earth than to strip the planet for more. But since China’s ban, U.S. cities have been scrambling to figure out  what to do with the recyclables they collect.

Even if you carefully separate your recyclables from your trash and compost, your empty wine bottles, jelly jars, and cereal boxes are now often heading to landfills, incinerators, and, in the most hopeful case, storage facilities (so that they might eventually be recycled). None of those are great options.


Okay, so that’s depressing. What can we do?

First, don’t stop recycling! We will eventually figure out a solution, likely through the development of more domestic recycling facilities. By continuing to recycle, we’re maintaining the demand for a system that works and ensuring that recycling stays in our waste reduction tool belt for decades to come.

That said, in light of the current issues within our recycling system, we need to look beyond recycling as a cure-all and refocus on everything that waste reduction encompasses.


Refuse waste in the first place

All is not lost, especially if we reduce what we toss. There are reusable options for almost everything — from coffee cups to produce bags. Even better? Buy used. Environmentally speaking, buying used goods is almost always preferable to purchasing a brand new product.

And best? Consider sharing things at a  community lending library. These libraries allow you to borrow camping gear, power tools, toys, and other stuff you only occasionally need.

Bonus: All of these waste reduction options save money. Cha-ching!

Fix it up

Instead of ditching damaged things, repair them. Events called  Fixit Clinics are gaining traction nationwide. At these free workshops, you can bring any item you have that needs help — from a busted microwave to a broken pair of scissors to a torn t-shirt — and work with an expert to fix it on the spot!

Not only will you come away with a new skill and spiffed up belongings, you might also discover that mending is meditative. Specifically, studies show that  sewing is an excellent stress reliever and mood booster to boot.     

Keep it clean

When you have to put something in the recycling bin, maximize its chances of a second act by wiping off food and other contaminants first. To keep the environmental impact low, clean your recyclables with dish water and used newspapers, napkins, and paper towels.

Recycling is a complicated sustainability topic, but the ethos behind it is still essential. We need to prioritize reusing, mending, and remanufacturing materials instead of piling them in overflowing landfills. Click to learn more about recycling your Cocofloss, which comes in 100% recycled paper packaging! 

Cat and I have talked frequently over the years about how Cocofloss can conserve resources and reduce waste. Thanks in part to those conversations, your favorite floss has some exciting options in the works. Stay tuned for new ways to keep your smileand the planet healthy and happy! Together, we can do this!


Jessica Coe has spent the past 10 years working as an environmental consultant, partnering with cities and large businesses to build effective recycling, composting, and waste reduction