Recycling is not the (only) answer


Environmental Fridays

Kelly Walker

Recycling is a wonderful concept. The idea that a product can be created from raw material with the intention of fully recycling those materials into a new product after its use is the dream of many. This closed-loop cycle of production and recycling ideally produces zero waste, giving the wastes of old products new life.

Unfortunately, recycling is currently an imperfect process that fails to fulfill this closed-loop dream in the U.S. for various reasons. First of all, recycling is a business and therefore relies on economic incentives to function properly. Raw materials are unfortunately much cheaper to use in production than recycled materials, resulting in a low demand for these recycled materials. 

As a result, many recycling facilities only accept certain plastics, excluding many of the plastics that are disposed just as frequently.  For example, plastic bags are widely discouraged in household recycling because the equipment in recycling facilities are easily damaged by this particular kind of plastic, causing production to be halted, costing valuable money, and preventing the proper energy to be focused on the recycling process.

In Lexington, our recycling facility accepts the basics such as paper products, aluminum cans, dry cardboard, steel food cans, bottles and jugs with plastic screw tops, and glass bottles and jars.  However, it does not accept clothing (which is a major environmental issue with the help of fast fashion), ceramics, any packaging (cardboard or paperboard) intended for freezer or refrigerator use, clam shell packaging (which essentially refers to any plastic container that is not a bottle or jug with a screw top – which excludes A LOT of common plastic waste), disposable cups and wrapping and tissue paper.

So how do we avoid throwing used materials that the recycling center won’t accept from your curbside bin into the trash? 

Although our Lexington recycling center accepts limited materials from your curbside bin or apartment recycling, they do provide drop-offs for other specific materials. Although it might take a little extra effort, you can recycle metals at Lexington Recycling Center’s metal recycling dumpster at 360 Thompson Road. Additionally, they offer e-waste recycling at the Electronic Recycling Center at 1306 Versailles Road where you can drop off residential electronic waste such as computers, phones, microwaves and much more. Their website also points to several other resources in the Lexington area that will accept the e-waste items that they will not accept.

Another amazing resource that we have in Lexington for recycling is a database called the Lexington Green Guide where you can find the item that you wish to recycle, and the database will list the resources available in Lexington to recycle that item.

If you’re interested in taking your recycling to another level, TerraCycle is a recycling company that prides itself on recycling hard-to-recycle waste by offering free programs that are funded by conscientious companies. They provide free downloadable shipping labels that you can use to ship the items that you collect in your home, based on the programs that you choose to join.

The future depends on the establishment of a closed-loop system someday to hopefully wipe out most of our waste. In the meantime, I encourage you to consider reducing your waste, reusing what you have and then responsibly recycling what you have left, only as a last resort.