Skip to content

♻️ "Recycling! Is it BS?"

How To Save A Planet

Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

Host: Alex Blumberg
Guests: Kendra Pierre-Louis, Climate Reporter
Category: Biz & Tech | ♻️ Sustainability

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[3:06] “[W]e often think of recycling as a waste issue—which it is—but it is also a climate issue, and that's because recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions. […] [M]aking new stuff requires a lot of energy, and recycling takes less energy. […] And we know […] that electricity is the second-leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. […] So anything that we can do to cut the amount of energy that we are using allows us a) to make that transition to renewable so much more easily; and b) just in the short term, cuts down on the amount of emissions we produce.”

[4:10] “[W]hen you say recycling, you're talking about taking something, breaking it down and turning it back into the same thing. So, like, taking a plastic soda bottle and turning it into a new soda bottle. […] [W]e would call [taking an old soda bottle and turning it into something else, like a fleece jacket], downcycling […]. Any time it's […] hard to pull out that original material from the finished product so that we can recycle it again, we call that downcycling. And it's less ideal because it ends the use of that material. […] So inevitably, we're going to have to mine or produce more raw material and have the extra emissions because of it.”

[8:55] “[T]he OG of recycling is […] the aluminum can. […] Once you make an aluminum can, you can pretty much melt it down and make a new aluminum can from it pretty much forever. […] And this is great news, because making what they call virgin aluminum as opposed to recycled aluminum, it's both really hard and really polluting. […] It is so energy intensive that a recycled aluminum can has a 95 percent smaller carbon footprint than making that same can from virgin aluminum.”

[12:08] “[G]lass, like metals, can be recycled forever. You just melt it down and begin again. […] There are some caveats which we kind of hinted at earlier, which is glass cookware like Pyrex shouldn't go in the bin because it's been treated to withstand heat, and so it makes it harder to melt it down. […] And things like windshields have a plastic layer that also keep them out of the recycling bin. But if we're talking about your basic beer or kombucha bottle, those can pretty much be recycled forever. […] And recycling glass definitely takes less energy than making brand new glass. So recycling glass is better than not recycling glass.”

[12:34] “EPA data says basically that […] recycling paper cuts emissions. […] That savings comes from the basic fact that paper comes from trees. Some of that carbon dioxide reduction is essentially because you leave a tree standing when you don't chop it down to make paper. […] But unlike aluminum and glass, you can't recycle paper forever. […] You can only do it about five to seven times, according to the US EPA. […] Overall, I can say that paper actually has a pretty high rate of recycling in this country. It's around 70 percent.”

[17:38] “A 2015 study in the journal Science found that we make about 300 million tons of plastic waste a year. Between five million and 14 million tons of that ends up in the ocean. And because of how much plastic we make and dispose of every year, plastic is just everywhere. They've found it at the top of Mount Everest, in the deep ocean, in rainwater, in the Arctic. And so focusing just on the […] question of can we recycle plastic? The answer is not really.”

[18:55] “The reason [you can’t do closed loop recycling with plastic] has to do with the nature of plastic itself. So, for example, […] a very common kind of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, or P-E-T […] [can be recycled] through melting. […] But melting this type of plastic is hard to get right. And then, unlike aluminum and glass, when you reheat plastic it gets weaker every time, just like recycling paper.”

[19:38] “[W]hen you want [a P-E-T bottle] to melt down into plastic and then turn it into a new bottle, you will often have to add what's called virgin plastic, […] which is brand new plastic back into it to make that bottle strong enough. […] So what often happens with these bottles is that we downcycle them, so it gets turned into a fleece jacket or a carpet, not new bottles. […] And that matters because once it turns into a jacket, you can't then recycle that jacket. […] It just sort of closes. It ends the cycle.”

[20:15] “[P-E-T] is just one type of plastic, a type of plastic that can technically be recycled. But there are lots of plastics that can't be recycled at all. […] You know when you flip over a plastic container and you see the recycling triangle and a number inside? […] [T]hat symbol which looks like the official recycling symbol, is something that was created by the plastics industry. They lobbied to have it on plastic containers. In many states, plastic containers are required to carry that symbol even if it's not actually recyclable.

[22:03] “A huge driver of the plastics problem is single-use plastics. Globally, companies make about 300 million tons of plastic every year, but half of that is single use. […] And so that includes things like plastic bags or Saran wraps or those plastic bubble mailers. And they're made from a different kind of plastic called low-density polyethylene. And they're really hard to recycle.”

[38:11] “[J]ust to give you a sense of how many greenhouse gas emissions we are talking about, the Center for International Environmental Law said that in 2019, making plastic and incinerating plastic generated as many emissions as 189 coal power plants.”

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 48 min | 🗓️ 01/21/2021
✅ Time saved: 45 min