The evolution of recycling

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First Posted: 6/10/2014

The world is always moving forward with new inventions and ideas coming in and old ones going out day after day; the speed of progression is almost hard to keep up with. Practices deemed safe for years are now being discovered as unsafe, and change is always upon us. Luckily for the environment, this is a good thing.

Scientists and researchers alike are finding that many of our traditional ways of environmental preservation are not as good as they thought. Changes in how our Waste Management handles garbage and recycling are sure to be on the way.

Many cities in the United States are already taking action by addressing the issue of plastic waste buildup. Plastic will eventually photodegrade, but everyone knows that most plastics take hundreds, even thousands of years to photodegrade. Because it takes so long to decompose, plastics are a huge mess in landfills and waste management centers around the world. Cities like San Francisco are banning the sale of plastic water bottles in hopes of eliminating the growing problem.

One of the most common types of garbage being littered is plastic bags. Because of the alarmingly high amount of plastic bags, a plastic bag ban is another growing trend. Many stores now require customers to bring their own reusable bags; otherwise, they have to pay to use plastic bags. Styrofoam is also a concern, as it is not biodegradable at all. Cities across the country are even passing bans on certain types of bulky Styrofoam food packaging. Eventually items made of Styrofoam and plastics should be phased out of production altogether, but in the meantime, we have to be sure to recycle what we can.

With computers, iPads, and all the other technology available in this day and age, it still comes as a surprise to me to see people keeping records using paper. For years, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been pushing the development of an electronic record-keeping system that would be not only more cost effective, but also much easier on the environment. President Obama signed legislation requiring the EPA to move to a digital system of records by 2015. By switching to digital, this allows retailers to report hazardous waste data directly to the online manifest, making it easier to track. Digital record-keeping will not only save thousands of trees, it will also keep everything organized and efficient.

Now that we’re coming up with effective ways to cut down on our paper and plastic waste, what about all of those cigarettes? I don’t think I can walk down a street without seeing a few cigarette butts scattered around. It’s gross. According to, 38 percent of the litter on the road is cigarette waste. TerraCycle, a company focused on recycling and bringing awareness and action to environmental issues, created the Cigarette Waste Brigade recycling program. The program allows an individual over the age of 21, organization, or business to collect and send cigarette waste directly to TerraCycle. Once TerraCycle receives the waste, they then compost the paper and filter and recycle it into shipping pallets, ashtrays, and a variety of other products.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem all too convenient to run around picking up cigarette butts and shipping them off to get recycled, but it’s a good start. If anything, the idea is to bring attention to the enormous problem of cigarette littering. For more information on TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Brigade recycling program, visit

We definitely have a long way to go with waste management, but with major cities like San Francisco banning plastics and New York City starting programs for mandatory composting, we’re moving in the right direction.