Friday, December 18, 2009

Yes-Attachment; Why Recycling Doesn't Cut it

I think that our biggest road block on this sustainable path is/will be our disposable lifestyle. We are so imbued with everything around is being easily replaced, the "convenience" of our throw away lives that the concept of stepping back is treacherous. It's so tempting and easy to buy products that require less preparation, less maintenance and can be replaced.

My reusable hemp tea-bag filled with yummy organic fair trade tea in a handmade ceramic mug... on handmade cloth table settings... lol I am a geek

These products aren't really going "away"- there is no real, fairyland "away", instead they are all slowly accumulating in landfills and dumps a few miles from our homes. 

Cue recycling. How awesome does it make you feel, you're preventing plastics and paper from going to the landfill! I used to feel like an environmental superhero- I was recycling paper, plastic and glass and composting. Buying more plastic was fine, since I tried to only buy what was recyclable here in Halifax (#1,2 only...). Until I read what Beth had to say over at Fake Plastic Fish. Here's a quick synopsis of why recycling isn't enough:

1. Plastic is forever, literally. All plastic ever created (bar what was burned) still exists today on Earth. A large bunch of that plastic is floating in the pacific garbage patch (a ginormous plastic blob in the middle of the ocean). A huge percentage has broken down into tiny plastic beads called "nurdles" that are being ingested by fish and other organisms in the ocean...subsequently killing them. Creating virgin or new plastic requires toxic and carbon emitting petrochemicals. For a fantastic account of Alan Weisman's (A World Without Us author) experience read "Polymer's Are Forever".

2. Most plastic containers and products are made from virgin plastic. So by buying that plastic yogurt container you're essentially supporting a new "forever" plastic into our world.

3. Most of recycled plastics are made into non-recyclable objects such as patio furniture, car bumpers etc. So although they don't go immediately to the landfill, after their use as plastic furniture they are no longer recyclable... and end up there anyway.

4. Recycling is downgrading... and with each process the plastic is less stable and less "usable" or marketable. Essentially, most of what you buy is adding to the amount of plastic in our world, recycling it just puts off the inevitable.

5. Recycling companies ship their plastic to others countries to process. Countries that may not have as stringent health and safety policies that we do here. According to Beth's article, much of the UK's and US's plastic is shipped to China, where people are paid low wages to work in toxic conditions... sorting our plastic. Although there is no mention of Canada, where the US goes, Canada is sure to follow. Please check out the video... and see for yourself.

For further info check out Fake Plastic Fish- an awesome site and check out the Ecology Action Centre's "7 Misconceptions about Plastic Recycling".

Obviously, recycling is better than simply throwing everything into the landfill. What I came to realize, however, was that by continuing to purchase plastic and disposable items by assuming that recycling was somehow a closed loop system, I was deluding myself as to my continued contribution to waste in our world.

Now is the time to begin changing the way we view our lives and making those changes to separate ourselves from a non-attached lifestyle. In this one area, the yogic concept of non-attachment doesn't apply, I say YES to attachment. Although Non-attachment could help us purchase less, we do still need to recognize the importance of what we have. 

Even simple things like disposable tea-bags, disposable j-cloths, swiffer mops, paper towel, food in plastic containers (i.e. rice, yogurt, juice) or getting your coffee in a cup. We need to view our lives as a process to be cherished, with a commitment to take a few extra minutes for something reusable.

Small steps are the way to go, and I have to admit this whole "reduce" concept was HARD. We were paper towel buyers (recycled content though!), and ziploc bags and containers... non-bulk food people.

We have now officially moved to glass containers, no paper towel or napkins, reusable dishcloths and buying rice/flour/granola stuff in bulk (in my awesome lioli bags). I have a reusable hemp tea bag and have started to buy fair trade bulk tea leaves. We still have far to go, but it seems realistic now, doable. All of a sudden, recycling doesn't make me feel good anymore. Reusing does.

The next few posts will tackle a few of the steps we've taken- paper towel, plastic containers with a few that we're still trying to make (with a quick post on how to reduce waste during Yule...).


article and photo copyright of EcoYogini @


  1. I heartily agree with your findings about recycling. I studied Environmental Science at University and it used to frustrate me no end when they rambled on about the benefits of recycling. I firmly believed then as you do now: we need to get back to making things ecologically and to last. Excellent post, thank you :)

  2. I had no idea reusable tea bags even existed! I drink tons of tea. Thanks for the tip!

  3. We made produce bags (they work for bulk nuts, grains, etc. too) from old pillowcases. Simply turn inside out, cut into quarters, stitch up, and you have four new bags! The cashiers at our hippie grocery store love them and give us extra bag credits.

    I don't know what to do about my soy yogurt, though. It does come in plastic tubs, and I wonder if I could (or would want to) make my own?

  4. you'll be telling me my hybrid SUV with all the Greenpeace and Sierra Club bumper stickers on it isn't helping save the earth...

  5. Excellent post! It's so true that recycling is kind of a feel good project. Hopefully, we'll be forced to shift out of the plastics industry in the near future, but until then, each of us have to stop giving into the lure of cheap and "throw-away-able."

  6. My daughter and I joined our community's recycling coalition this year and we've become very aware of the limitations of recycling. Sure, it's better than simply dumping everything in the landfill but as you point out, avoiding the waste in the first place is infinitely better.

  7. Your summary of the problems with plastic and plastic recycling are spot on. Recycling is often a "feel good" endeavor that leaves people thinking they've done more good than they actually have, and lets them off the hook.

    About YES-attachment, I think there is a fine line between activism that comes from a sense of our shared oneness with all things, and our attachments to our labels like "green," "activist," "eco-friendly," etc.

    Also, in terms of attachment to things -- I don't think that caring for the things that come into our lives is necessarily attachment unless we can't let them go when they eventually break or get lost or even stolen. They are our responsibility while in our possession. And it's also our responsibility to see that they move along properly. This is part of the reason that I ask my friends and family not to buy me non-consumable tangible gifts for birthdays and holidays unless the items are things I've specifically asked for (which is rare.) I feel like I already have too many things to keep track of!

  8. Recycling is crucial practice
    Please don not denegrate it!
    Recycling plastic in a closed
    Loop system means the plastic
    Goes back to bottle not downgraded.

  9. Matthew: you are very welcome! Environmental Science would have been so interesting.... :)

    Rebecca: I was very excited to see the hemp bags- just because I'd always seen the little metal balls... hemp is so less energy intensive to make :)

    Vegan: COOL idea!! I need some thread and a needle... lol.
    I think if ANYONE could make soy yogurt it would be you :) I have heard that making yogurt is actually not that difficult, but soy would probably change things a bit...

    Dr. Jay: hah- I'm sure that Greenpeace has some magical powers that they spell into their stickers- some crazy Captain Planet powers...

    Nathan: Exactly!!

    Deanna: I still want to figure out how to get to Halifax's recycling and composting plant. what a great way to help change our culture- with children :)

    Beth: I'm glad I was able to summarize it coherently! The non-attachment comment was more of a nod to the yoga-aspect of this blog. you're right of course, it's a very delicate balance. YOU were the reason recycling was no longer enough for us! THANK YOU :)

    Anonymous: actually, as Beth has pointed out in her blog and other researchers, recycling plastic IS downgrading.
    Now- I think really my point was that if all the emphasis was placed on recycling as the 'good enough' we're not actually helping our planet by continuing our addiction to consumption.
    The golden standard that should be touted is reducing. plastic isn't the answer- and although recycling isn't BAD, we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking it's really the best answer.

    plastic is forever. next time check exactly how many of your containers are made from post consumer recycled plastic. I can count ONE in my apartment....

  10. Yay!! Excellent post. Since reading all my favorite blogs (like yours) this year, I have also realized that recycling is not the "answer." It's important, but as you said, nothing is more essential than reducing. As you know, I've been working on my own little "Zero Waste Challenge," and have gotten pretty far with no-plastics. I still have some challenges with it, and have made some compromises, which hopefully will work out - will be blogging on that after the holidays.

    Thanks for this info!


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