Last Saturday, during the BagFest Event, I had the opportunity to participate in the discussion panel which consisted of representatives from SB Waste, Wal-Mart and Rocky-Mountain Recycling. It was interesting to listen to the responses to some of the questions being asked by the audience. My question to them (particularly to Rocky-Mountain) was, "Is recycling plastic bags reducing the use of natural resources?" The representative of Rocky-Mountain replied with a "yes", stating that (because the bags were being recycled) they reduced the need to use the materials to make new plastic bags. This is somewhat problematic because plastic bags do not necessarily become plastic bags again after being recycled. They become lawn furniture, wood composite and other misc. items. So, unless everyone is using re-usable bags, plastic bags are still being manufactured.
I have been recycling my plastic bags for years, largely because I knew there is an outlet for them. In essence, I had a false belief that I was not damaging the environment because I was recycling. The question that begs to be answered is, "Does recycling decrease the use of natural resources or does it only decrease the amount of waste going into landfills?" On one hand, recycling prevents "waste" and compilation of materials in landfills; on the other hand, recycling increases the demand for materials to be recycled. Hmmm...somewhat of an oxymoron.
Elizabeth Royte made a statement during her lecture on campus last Saturday that puts this issue into perspective. To prevent mis-quoting, I am going to paraphrase the statement. She was discussing "Zero Waste" and told us that in order to have zero waste, there needs to be a Paradigm Shift. I took that statement to mean that we need to change how we view our world, our environment, our behavior and how we live. Recycling isn't the only answer and it does not solve all of the problems. Reducing the use of natural resources combined with recycling and reusing should be viewed a collective process rather than as options from which to choose from.