The phrase on the Waste Management mailer sent to Ellensburg customers a couple of weeks ago was jarring and disconcerting:

“When in doubt, throw it out.”

That six words seemed to run contradictory to several decades of recycling practices.

But for a variety of reason, this is the situation we find ourselves in 2019 — on a planet with multiple problems caused by the discarding of garbage and a system where it does not make financial sense to recycle some easily recyclable products.

The decision by the Chinese to no longer take U.S. recyclables was a game changer. If there is no market, where does this stuff go? The answer is into a landfill.

Items that continue to be recyclable are clean cardboard and paper, clean plastic bottles and clean metal cans (aluminum and tin). Notice the reoccurring use of the word “clean.”

Glass and plastic bags are not recyclable, nor are food-soiled paper or boxes. (Talking to you, pizza box.)

Glass is easily recyclable, but it is also does not create the same environment hazard as does improperly disposed of plastic.

If you are asking yourself, does this mean it is better to use much more plastic rather than glass. the answer remains no. For the environmentally minded both the production and disposal of plastic causes more environmental problems than the production and disposal of glass. Glass requires less energy to manufacture and is made from natural substances. The one upside of plastic is it is lighter so takes less energy to transport. Plastic is recyclable but nonetheless much of it is not disposed of properly and plastic can leach chemicals into the environment.

One of the plusses of recycling glass is it took it out of the waste stream and reduced the amount of weekly household trash to fit into a bin.

One thing the Waste Management action is forcing is something consumers should have been doing already — considering the packaging prior to purchasing the product.

Beverages often come in either glass bottle, plastic bottle or can. If you are looking for the deal-breaker on aluminum versus plastic, both have environmental impacts in production but aluminum is easier to recycle. The question you might ask yourself is whether a glass bottle tossed in the trash is still more environmentally friendly than a plastic or metal container. You also need to keep in mind that landfill space is not infinite.

If we take the mindset that we are responsible for the proper disposal of the packaging of anything we purchase than our dollars we go toward the more responsibly packaged product encouraging manufacturers and producers in that direction. We have all purchased products with ridiculously over-the-top amounts of packaging.

The era of “feeling good about recycling” without putting much thought into what we purchased or where the packaging went, is over.

Perhaps the new phrase should be, “Give it some thought, before it’s bought.”


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