Should You Bother Recycling?

This previous school year, my students in Environmental Science led our school’s recycling initiative. They absolutely loved it. From making catchy morning announcements each Tuesday to designing posters and then the thrill of being out of the class and visiting each classroom from Pre-K’s to other 12th-grade classes was a blast for them (and me). We’d get questions such as “what’s the point?” every so often that I hear reflected and diffracted from social media and our general culture. 

However, the experience led to great conversations in class about sustainability, the value of our choices, and how we use materials.

 Yes, recycling is “broken” in many ways, as are numerous systems in our society in 2024. However, I firmly believe that by taking the right actions, we can contribute in small but significant ways at our individual levels to effect positive change. The success of our recycling initiative is a testament to this belief, and it should inspire us all to continue our efforts toward a better, more sustainable future.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot..” and all that. From choosing to be a teacher to choosing to pick up that piece of trash in the store parking lot to choosing to be intentional about how we recycle… those choices add up.

Recycling Is Broken. Should I Even Bother? – The New York Times (gift article):

So, is it worth the effort?

In theory, every item you recycle can keep resources in the ground, avoid greenhouse gases and help keep the environment healthy. And that’s all good.

“The value is in displacing virgin materials,” said Reid Lifset, a research scholar at Yale’s School of the Environment.

But here’s the critical part: Don’t wish-cycle.

Follow the instructions provided by your local hauler. If you throw in stuff they don’t want, the effort needed to weed it out makes it less likely that anything will get recycled at all.