America’s Recycling Programs are in Disarray, You Can Help

America’s Recycling Programs are in Disarray, You Can Help

Recycle More Effectively by Checking Out One Planet Life’s Comprehensive Guide

Today marks the 13th annual America Recycles Day. Established in 2009 by the 501c3 non-profit Keep America Beautiful, the day has been set aside to help Americans gain a better understanding of the recycling process and how to help cut down on the amount of trash overwhelming our environment.

In 2022, America Recycles Day focuses on the economic impacts of recycling, job creation, and reduced manufacturing costs due to the reuse of limited resources and savings arising from not having to source new raw materials.

Each year, Keep America Beautiful encourages individuals to take the#BeRecycled Pledge and complete the following goals in November:

  1. LEARN: “I will find out what materials are collected for recycling in my community.”
  2. ACT: “Within the next month, I will reduce the amount of waste I produce, I will recycle more, and I will buy products made with recycled content.”
  3. SHARE: “In the next month, I will encourage one family member or one friend to take the #BeRecycled pledge.”

It’s no secret that the state of recycling in America needs improving, which increases the importance of raising awareness of the topic. While the issue will take a multi-faceted approach to fix – including legislation, corporate responsibility, and more – individuals have a huge opportunity to make a difference through knowledge sharing and devotion to a more sustainable lifestyle. 

What’s Wrong With the System?

To positively impact the state of recycling in America, it’s essential to understand the process and issues plaguing recycling efforts nationwide. 

In the most recent figures available by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 94.2 million tons of the total 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. was recycled in 2018. 

The most-recycled products and materials included:
  1. Corrugated boxes – 32.1 million tons
  2. Mixed nondurable paper products – 8.8 million tons
  3. Newspapers/mechanical papers – 3.3 million tons
  4. Lead-acid batteries – 2.9 million tons
  5. Major appliances – 3.1 million tons
  6. Wood packaging – 3.1 million tons
  7. Glass containers – 3 million tons
  8. Tires – 2.6 million tons
  9. Mixed paper containers and packaging – 1.8 million tons
  10. Selected consumer electronics – 1 million tons

Collectively, these products accounted for 90% of total municipal solid waste recycling in 2018.

The EPA also collected data related to composting and food waste management.

Composted waste accounted for a total of 25 million tons, including approximately 22.3 million tons of yard trimmings (more than a five-fold increase since 1990) and 2.6 million tons of food waste (4.1% of generation of wasted food).

Other methods of food management were estimated for the first time in 2018, tracking 17.7 million tons of wasted food managed through animal feed, co-digestion/anaerobic digestion, bio-based materials/biochemical processing, donation, land application, and sewer/wastewater treatment.

The current recycling rate nationwide is 34%, according to Keep America Beautiful. While the recycling rate continues to increase, so do production and consumption. In fact, each American averages 4.9 pounds of waste each day that ends up in landfills.

But how is all this waste given a second life? Well, experts are still trying to come up with an effective solution.

Prior to 2018, most recyclables were shipped to China for reprocessing.

But when the nation implemented its “National Sword Policy,” the global recycling system took a hit. By imposing strict contamination limits on recyclable materials and prohibiting imports of low-quality recyclables altogether, recycled material quickly began piling up at materials recycling facilities (MRFs) and eventually in landfills.

In a 2022 University of Buffalo study analyzing the impacts of China’s policy, researchers determined the quantity of plastic landfilled in the U.S. alone increased by 23.2%.

Though there has been a rise in technology and other tactics to increase cleaner recycling streams, the U.S. continues to struggle to find cost-effective ways to recycle the massive amounts of waste Americans produce yearly.

Residential recycling service costs hit $6.85 per month per household due to repercussions from National Sword – up 11% over 2018 costs, according to The State of Recycling Today Report conducted by RTS.

However, efforts are being made to overhaul the system and create a better process for recycling across America. The EPA is following a five-step approach, outlined in The National Recycling Strategy, to try and reach a National Recycling Goal of increasing the recycling rate to 50% by 2030.

The objectives, which aim to create a more resilient and cost-effective national recycling system, include the following: 
  1. Improving markets for recycling commodities.
  2. Increasing collection and improving materials management infrastructure.
  3. Reducing contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  4. Enhancing policies to support recycling.
  5. Standardizing measurement and increasing data collection.

As Americans wait for change on a governmental level, what if, in the meantime, they put more thought into what they consume overall and how they can do so in a more sustainable way?

The EPA offers a comprehensive look at what can be recycled in most communities across the country. 

The top 10 items to toss in your blue bin include:

  1. Cardboard
  2. Paper
  3. Food Boxes 
  4. Mail
  5. Beverage Cans
  6. Food Cans
  7. Glass Bottles 
  8. Jars (Glass & Plastic)
  9. Jugs 
  10. Plastic Bottles & Caps
Recycling goes awry when contamination occurs. 

Entire batches of recyclables can end up in landfills if too many unrecyclable or dirty items are mixed in. Since the U.S. relies on single-stream recycling systems, where different types of items are tossed into the same bin, the trend of “wish-cycling” wreaks havoc. In this practice of recycling items that cannot be recycled at all, cannot be recycled at the local facility, or cannot be recycled in a contaminated state, Americans are causing more harm than good.

Knowing what can and can’t be recycled through your local service is essential to recycling responsibility. Are you unsure about what your local service can handle? Check out the company’s website or give them a call so that you are helping provide a solution, not contributing to the problem.

As people call for more accountability from corporations and governments, more studies are being conducted on the recyclability of consumer goods. In 2020, GreenPeace published the Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability, providing a factual look at the shortcomings of the system and suggesting solutions such as transparent labeling, honest advertising, and more to turn the tide. 

In a 2020 report from the Columbia Climate School, education is listed as the first strategy to implement change.

“Minimizing contamination of recyclables and the flow of recyclable items to landfills requires consumer awareness,” Renee Cho, staff writer for the Columbia Climate School, explained. “Community events, campaigns, and brochures are necessary to educate residents about the importance of reusing, recycling, and composting, as well as how to properly recycle in their particular community. They need to understand which items are actually recyclable and which are not.”

A Solution: Use Less, Help More

With so many factors at play, how can one remain hopeful about the future of a planet piling up with waste? Recycling is only one facet of a three-step approach that has been around for decades but is more important now than ever: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

The world continues to generate massive amounts of single-use plastic – one of the largest contributors to pollution on a global scale. Individuals can make a tremendous impact by not only recycling waste but by reducing the amount they consume in the first place.

By saying “no” to single-use plastics altogether and replacing them with sustainable, reusable options, you are cutting down on the amount of recyclables that could end up in a landfill from contamination outside of your control.

There are so many ways to give items a second life. Here are just a few ways that your individual contributions can make an impact: 

Reduce: Swap out single-use plastic water bottles for a refillable option. Prefer a clean taste? Invest in a water filter!

Reuse: Clearing out your closet? Don’t throw away the items you don’t wear anymore; instead, donate them to someone in need. Looking to switch up your wardrobe?  The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions globally and is estimated to surge to more than 50% by 2030. Check out a local thrift store before buying new.

Recycle: Start composting! Even if you live in an urban area, there are plenty of ways to start composting your kitchen scraps. Using a composting service, you can divert 360 lbs of food waste from landfills per year, which creates 182 lbs of compost and equates to offsetting 1,065 miles driven by a car. Learn how to get started by checking out these resources on our website. 

Refill: Keep packaging in mind when you make purchases. Shopping in bulk cuts down on the amount of packaging we consume. Check out our interactive map to see where you can bulk shop locally. Take it a step further and find shops that enable you to skip the packaging and bring your own reusable containers!

Bonus: Do some research on what items your local facility can actually recycle, so you aren’t clogging up the system with contaminants. Share this information with your community to increase efficient recycling on a larger scale.

While the United States undoubtedly faces an uphill battle in streamlining its recycling system, individuals can implement Joyful Changes in their everyday lives to make a difference. By “Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling” in creative ways, we can collectively cut the amount of waste that is funneled into landfills each year, paving the way to a cleaner future.

Interested in Learning More

CAN I RECYCLE THIS? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics By Jennie Romer is a wonderful resource for those just diving into the world of recycling. While we know the mantra – reduce, reuse, recycle, do we know what is recycled, what goes into a landfill, and what goes into our oceans? Romer is a leading expert on single-use plastics and reduction and recycling in the U.S. and has the answers to your questions about recyclables. Read One Planet Life’s review.

Don’t Forget! 

Sign Keep America Beautiful’s #BeRecycled pledge to spread awareness of recycling to your friends and neighbors! 

The One Planet Life team encourages you to take this challenge a step further:  
  1. LEARN: More about simple ways you can cut down on carbon emissions in your everyday life through OPL posts, shared resources, and social connections.
  2. ACT: By tracking your Joyful Changes through the One Planet Life App, you can see, in real numbers, how small changes carry a heavy impact. 
  3. SHARE: Our app with your friends and family. Make a collective impact by joining challenges together. When 16 of us each reduce our CO2 emissions by one metric ton, that’s equivalent to one person going net zero! 
Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

Save the Planet from Plastic Pollution, One Refill at a Time

Save the Planet from Plastic Pollution, One Refill at a Time

‘Reduce and Reuse’ are the Real Solutions to the Planet’s Plastic Problem.

It may surprise you, but the vast majority of plastic you toss into your recycling bin each week actually ends up being dumped in a landfill. 

According to a 2022 report from Greenpeace, an international non-profit devoted to raising awareness about environmental issues, only about 5-6% of U.S. plastics were recycled last year, down from a high of 9.5% in 2014 and 8.7% in 2018. 

Considering that the world now produces more than 380 million metric tons of plastic every year, it’s easy to see how quickly waste can add up.

Single-use plastics have exploded in recent decades. In the U.S. alone, plastic waste generation has increased 263% since 1980 – from an average of 60 pounds per person per year to 218 pounds per person per year in 2018, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Contrary to popular belief, not one single type of plastic food service item, including the polypropylene cup lids that Starbucks touts as recyclable, has ever been able to be recycled per the FTC Green Guide legal definition, according to the 2022 report, The Real Truth About the U.S. Plastics Recycling Rate.

Toxicity risks in recycled plastic prohibit “the vast majority of plastic products and packaging produced” from being recycled into food-grade packaging, the study further explains. 

Without radical action to curb demand, increase product lifespans, and improve waste management and recyclability, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates plastic pollution to triple by 2060. 

In its report, Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060, several high-level solutions are presented to control the rising volume of plastics plaguing the environment, including:

  • Taxes on plastics and plastic packaging 
  • Incentives to reuse and repair plastic items
  • Targets for recycled content in new plastic products
  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes
  • Improved waste management infrastructure
  • Increased litter collection rates

While these solutions could make a significant impact, they could take years – if not decades – to come to fruition.

But fortunately, individuals can implement changes into their everyday lives right away that can help cut down on consumption and create a future less cluttered by plastics. 


What are Single-Use Plastics?

To cut single-use plastics out of our lives for good, we must first understand how it infiltrates our habits and households. 

The National Resource Defense Council defines Single-Use Plastics as “goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Single-use plastics are most commonly used for packaging and serviceware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws and bags.”

The popularity of single-use plastics skyrocketed in the 1970s when traditional paper or glass packaging was overwhelmingly replaced with lighter or more durable and affordable plastic alternatives. Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced, half of that in the past 15 years alone.

While using a plastic fork on your lunch break may seem harmless, the total number of single-use utensils that end up in landfills each year is staggering – 40 billion plastic forks, spoons, and knives. On top of that, the U.S. alone tosses 500 million plastic straws every day, according to Habits of Waste.

5 Ways to Reduce Your Energy Consumption
How Can I Cut My Dependency on Single-Use Plastics?

Changing habits isn’t always easy. However, the team at One Planet Life shares their personal journeys on how they shifted focus to living more sustainably, hoping to offer a few tips on how to make the switch. 

Lorie Buckingham, the founder of One Planet Life, started her journey by eliminating single-use plastic from her life. 

“It was easy when going to the grocery store, as I would keep my reusable shopping bags and my reusable produce bags ready to go in my entryway closet,” she said. “I grab the set and head off to the grocery store or farmers market. I love coming home with fruit and vegetables not covered in plastic and without a pile of waste.”

Making spur-of-the-moment purchases still plagued her with waste. “The problem was solved when I started carrying a foldable, reusable bag in my purse or backpack,” she said. “Voila, I pull it out and, once again, get home with my purchase – no single-use plastic bag needed.” Shopping weekly, Buckingham estimates saving at least 600 plastic bags per year.

Switching to a reusable water bottle, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult. “I am picky about the taste of my water,” she shared. “This was resolved with a countertop Berkey Water Filtration system, glass bottles that fit perfectly in the refrigerator, and several to-go water bottles. Now, I have great-tasting water at home and on the go.” Since changing her habits four years ago, Buckingham estimates saving over 4,000 water bottles from going to the landfill.

Yvonne Dwyer, One Planet Life’s Naturalist, switched to a refillable water bottle after seeing how many empty plastic water bottles ended up in her weekly recycle bin.

“It was time for a change,” she said. “I learned that not all plastic is recycled, and the expense of paying for bottled water just seemed crazy. Instead, I could use my reusable hard plastic tumbler cup, which I eventually changed to a Nalgene bottle, and then to Hydro Flask and Corkcicle bottles, which keep water cool. My Hydro Flask, Corkcicle, and Yeti bottles go with me on whatever adventure I pursue.”

Amy Bates, CMO of One Planet Life, reduced dependency on single-use plastics after seeing the sheer volume of plastic her family was throwing away. 

“I made three simple changes that significantly reduced our plastic waste and saved money and effort,” she said. “First, I switched to reusable k-cups to make our coffee. Not only could we enjoy any coffee, but it was also much less expensive. Second, I stopped buying plastic ziplock bags for snacks and storage. Now, I use reusable snack and storage bags, I prefer the Russbe brand, and they work great. I wash them in the dishwasher and enjoy another cost savings! Finally, we use our reusable water bottles daily, for travel, and while on our boat at the lake.”

Her family went from buying a couple of cases of water in plastic bottles each weekend to using quality, insulated bottles on their boating trips. 

“It’s much easier to know which drink is yours, and we significantly decreased the amount of waste to clear off the boat at the end of the day,” she shared. “These joyful changes were easy to make and delivered many benefits.”

As the OPL team shared, switching to reusable options often carries more benefits than just reducing waste. 

To help make this switch easier for those on their journey to live a more sustainable life, One Planet Life is launching its very own e-store.

Shoppers will find eco-friendly, reusable products to replace single-use options, including:

  • A Travel Utensils Set in Cloth Pouch, with a glass straw and brush, fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks, and a cloth napkin
  • Foldable and reversible Tote Bags
  • Larger Canvas Tote Bags 
  • Insulated Reusable Water Bottles
With a reusable water bottle alone, two fill-ups daily would save 720 plastic bottles per year or 0.63 pounds of carbon emissions. 

If communities worked together to lower their dependency on single-use everyday items by substituting reusable alternatives, the hope of a cleaner future unmarred by mountains of plastics could become a reality.

Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and REFILL to Benefit the Planet

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and REFILL to Benefit the Planet

It’s time to add another R-action on your journey to living more sustainably. Refill your containers instead of purchasing new ones.

Buying package-free products and using your own containers is an impactful way to reduce your carbon footprint and minimize the amount of plastic and containers you send to the landfill. Shops selling bulk, package-free products as often referred to as “refilleries.” I’ll share my recent experience at a refillery near my home.

While watching the Pittsburgh nightly news one evening, a local commercial came on for a small woman-owned business called, The Refillery. The ad promoted a store where you bring your own plastic and glass containers and purchase personal care products such as shampoo and home essentials such as all-purpose cleaners and laundry detergent. I decided to visit!

Immediately upon arriving at this eco-friendly brick-and-mortar in Squirrel Hill, I was greeted by a friendly employee. She enthusiastically showed me around and explained how the whole process at The Refillery works.

The Refillery

Here is how the refilling process works:
  1. Bring clean and empty containers from home – there are also glass bottles and jars for sale.
  2. Before you fill your container, the bottle or jar is weighed, and that weight is deducted from the final weight after filling it with your favorite product.
  3. Fill your containers with the desired home and personal care products.
  4. You only need to fill in the amount you need. Then the filled container is weighed, and the container weight is subtracted from the total weight.
  5. Pay by the ounce.
Prices are very reasonable. You pay by weight, but your containers are weighed empty first and deducted from the total. 

With my mason jars In hand, I went for a laundry detergent, an all-purpose cleaner, and lemon sugar scrub. All the products are made locally with clean ingredients using the least amount of chemicals and preservatives. There are several familiar products to choose from, including Kaylaan toothpaste tablets and Hibar solid shampoo/conditioner, which I already use and love.

By adding refilling as one of your new sustainable actions, you help the environment by reducing plastic usage, and you also save money! 

I was fortunate enough to meet the founder and owner of The Refillery, Lorissa Russo. We had a great conversation regarding her zero-waste startup, available products, and her mission and passion for reducing single-use plastic and packaging with locally, ethically, and sustainably made affordable products. During Covid quarantine Lorissa, an engineer at the time learned about refilleries in Europe and other areas of the United States through TikTok videos. The more she thought about reducing plastic packaging and climate change she decided that she needed to take a personal stance to make a difference. She resigned from her engineering position and created The Refillery.


Explore our OPL INSIGHT interactive map to locate similar stores in your state.
Package Free Shopping By State and City
OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

My Journey to Reduce My Carbon Footprint Started With Trash

My Journey to Reduce My Carbon Footprint Started With Trash

The journey to reducing my carbon footprint through reducing, recycling, reusing, and repurposing has evolved over several years.

It all began by reducing the amount of rubbish that went into our trash cans. I began shopping more mindfully, looking for products with less packaging and thinking about what happened to my family’s trash after it was “thrown away” and how long it would take to biodegrade fully. This led me to compost, which takes natural, easily biodegradable materials out of trash bags, allowing them to break down entirely and then reunite them with the earth as a natural nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Composting has become a way of life for my family.

We add everything possible that can break down – such as grass clippings, leaves, food waste, unsoiled pieces of pizza cardboard boxes, and shredded paper bags – and with time, our efforts are rewarded with rich brown dirt full of terrific nutrients.  This dirt is then placed in our flower, vegetable, and herb garden beds, nourishing the plants, so they bear fruit that is far more delicious than its grocery store cousins. Thanks to composting, we have successfully diverted valuable waste from landfills, super-charged our gardens, enjoyed the mental and physical health benefits of gardening, and produced beautiful fruits and veggies for our nourishment – all for free!

Yvonne Dwyer Composting

Success with composting led me progressively to other areas where I could eliminate unnecessary waste, such as reusing containers and reducing single-use plastics where I could.

I tried to reduce, reuse, or recycle plastic containers in unique ways, like sending DIY college care packages to our sons in reusable containers, which we would later collect and refill for future care packages. I began using reusable shopping bags after learning how plastic bags have contributed to the widespread appearance of plastic microparticles across our planet’s waterways, aquatic animals’ bodies, and even our own bodies. I applaud states like New York, which have eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores. Shoppers are encouraged to use their reusable tote bags, purchase reusable totes for $1.99, or are charged five cents per paper bag they require. I hope other states adopt this practice to encourage mindfulness and eliminate unnecessary plastic!

I’ve also focused on eliminating plastic packaging in the pantry staples I buy.

I was discouraged that most large grocery store chains generally only offer pantry staples in plastic packaging. I began frequenting stores and co-ops where I could bring my own containers to purchase pantry staples and other personal items, freeing us further from single-use plastics. I’ve also used online shopping to buy the things I use in biodegradable packaging. I have found that many of my online packages are shipped in packaging that easily breaks down and can be composted.

My gloriously crooked sustainability journey is far from over, but I’ve been astounded at how my little changes have added up to a sustainable lifestyle. Share the joyful changes you have made to reduce your carbon footprint. We would love to hear your ideas! Check out the learning and marketing section of our One Planet Life app for more information to support your journey.

OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

How will we Face Climate Change,  Sharknado, or Ministry For the Future?

How will we Face Climate Change, Sharknado, or Ministry For the Future?

Fiction is a window into our future.

While I was reading the book, The Ministry for the Future, my nephew and I watched the movie “Sharknado.” These contrasting climate stories stunned me. Our climate fiction centers around disasters with only a few people surviving, such as Sharknado. The Ministry for the Future is a story about how many people around the world take action to stay under the 1.5-degree Celcius threshold. The journey is disturbing and hopeful. Let us explore these two different future stories.


The cult-favorite “Sharknado” movies center around a series of severe storms that make “Sharknados” emerge, wiping out cities. Fictional sharknados are tornadoes with the power to pull sharks out of oceans into funnels and rain them down onto land. This comical series has people going about their daily activities, ignoring the bizarre weather pattern until it is too late. Only lead characters Fin and April, along with a small group, are able to save the day. 

Is this how we want to deal with climate change? Do we want to hope that there will be a couple of heroes with whom we happen to be when the disaster occurs? While disaster movies are fun, they don’t help us see a path to the future.

The book The Ministry for the Future (read our review) is science fiction rooted in science and human nature. For the next 30 years, the climate crisis is navigated – yes, terrible things happen, and many die, but humanity does survive – both terrifying and hopeful. This story engages us in thinking through how we might journey through this. If we all understand more and take action, small and big, we can be a part of getting as many people and all life through this crucial point in time. 

How will we handle this challenge? It is easy to feel powerless facing challenges that no one person can solve. 

We strongly believe that people can make a difference.

It is why we developed the One Planet Life app; to assist you on your journey. It works like a climate fitness app. You select actions that work for you to reduce your CO2, track your progress and celebrate everyday victories. When 16 of us reduce our CO2 emissions by one metric ton, this is equivalent to one person going net zero! Imagine 160 people making the change, then 1,600 achieving the same victory. The good news is that reducing your first metric ton of CO2 emissions is very doable.  

It will take many people acting, and we believe we will get there. If each of us takes action or joyful changes as we refer to them, they add up.  

Let’s make changes so we don’t have a “Sharknado” future! Join us today!

Written by Lorie Buckingham

Written by Lorie Buckingham

OPL Founder and Wayfinder

“Over the years, I was struck by how our lifestyles cause stress both on us and the planet.  This led me to explore and learn about sustainability and wellness.  With a deeper understanding, I began to make tangible changes in my life.  One Planet Life LLC was founded to connect with others on this journey. I hope that together we can make a significant difference for people and the planet. “

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