Everybody knows the three R’s of conservation– reduce, reuse, and recycle. It has been ingrained into the educational system and has been the driving force behind the eco-friendly movement for very many years.

Reducing has always been, and always will be useful, as actively lowering your carbon footprint and the amount of rubbish you get rid of has no downsides.

Reusing is another great one, especially for things that do not decompose right away. Plastic containers and glass bottles are some of the easiest ways to practice reusing and most families do that already, which is pretty great.

Recycling on the other hand, has always had a little argument attached to it. Many say that while yes, it may be better than plainly throwing away good materials that can be reconstructed to something else, others have their opinion on why it should not be the way forward.

The Wave’ has always been and will always be dedicated to conservation and eco-friendly efforts, so this topic is naturally intriguing. The only way to find out more is to do a little research and talk about it, and that is what is about to happen; let’s talk about it.

Why not recycle?

The most prominent recycling stations are by the 7-11 stores around the country, where the three multi-coloured bins greet you as you go in and out of the store. Most of these are usually packed to the brim (whether or not in the correct order is a whole other question) which is good… right?

Turns out recycling is last of the 3 R’s for a reason. The premise of it was to begin your eco-friendly journey by reducing your waste in general. Next up was the reuse whatever you could amongst what was left. Finally, if there was anything that could not be reduced or reused, then finally recycle. Full recycling bins were not the vision of people who started the eco-movement.

Contamination is a huge issue as well when it comes to recycling, as the old material gets turned into something new. Anything that was in the old is moved onto something else, sometimes with devastating effects. Lead paint and gamma radiation are some of the things that have been recently detected after the recycling process.

And did you know that a lot of energy goes into working these recycling plants, hence producing much more air pollution?

Sure, when it comes to plastics, better to recycle than do nothing at all, right? Well…

Downcycling???

Wait, that doesn’t start with “R”?

In all honesty, this is probably the most accurate way of describing recycling. Products that have been used and thrown in the recycle bins are moved to processing plants, where they will be made into an inferior product. As children, you may have thought that recycling meant that these materials that never broke down would just go onto creating new products forever, right?

Unfortunately, that is what they do not tell you about downcycling (recycling). Whatever product you have in your hands that go into a recycling bin will be downgraded further and further until it reaches the point that it is unusable. It is then thrown into the landfill, contrary to popular belief. Strange, huh?

This is not a direct slight on recycling, because while it does end up where it should not go, at least it goes through the processes, and new materials do not need to be used. However, there are many processes that it has to go through first before it becomes the new product, and for something that ends up in the landfill, in the end, it sure uses a lot of energy to do so.

Plastic takes anywhere from 450 years to 1000 years to decompose, and every bottle you pick up from the store will be staying on the earth at least five times longer than you will.

So, it turns out that recycling is not the solution to plastics that everyone was hoping for. Plastic takes anywhere from 450 years to 1000 years to decompose, and every bottle you pick up from the store will be staying on the earth at least five times longer than you will. This sticks the planet in a dangerous cycle that it will struggle to break itself out of.

Imagine, if everybody stopped using plastics today, it would be at least 450 years before the earth would be rid of all plastic. In fact, the first plastic was introduced in 1907, meaning it is still around today, either sitting in a landfill, completely unchanged, or recycled into something almost entirely useless by now.

Where does this waste go?

Amazingly, just five cities in Manila (Makati, Muntinlupa, Pasig, Quezon City, and Valenzuela) get rid of over 860,000 tons of waste a year. Most of it go to various landfills around the country, where they sit for centuries. The problem with landfills is that as they fill up, a lot gets buried under it, and even something easily biodegradable, such as orange peel, would be suck in an anaerobic environment and be unable to decompose as it usually would above ground.

There is also the small, or quite large issue of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ that is four times the size of the Philippines. Half of that plastic comes from only about five countries, with the Philippines being one of them.

Clearly, the 3 R’s are not working as they should and keeping plastics out of landfills or the ocean. And like as if the Philippines was not having a hard enough time processing its own garbage, Canada (illegally) sent over 50 containers full of rubbish to be processed here! It has been two years, and while Canada has offered to pay the Philippines to process its waste, most of it still sits in Manila’s ports, awaiting Canada’s next move.

Root of the problem

While it is not ideal, plastic containers that are meant for the long haul are not the biggest problem. Sure, if you threw it away after 20 years it still has over 400 years left on this planet, but at least it spent 20 years out of the landfill and the ocean. Disposable plastics are what make up the largest portion of why recycling is bad for the environment.

Straws are picked up and thrown away every day. Plastic bags are sometimes reused, but they’re usually too thin to withstand too much before giving way. Smaller plastic bags that hold water? Forget about it, they’re only used once and thrown on the sidewalk. Plastic cups, plastic cutlery, and plastic wrappers may all be small, but they’re all generally single-use and are thrown out without a thought.

Each of them is small, and yet they all do add up to a huge consequence. With the Philippines being the third largest dumper of plastics in the ocean, surely something needs to be done about it.

Say YES to conservation and #sayNOtosingleuse