By Alex Evans
Editor in Chief
As the leading country in annual solid waste production per-capita, Americans go through consumer goods like no other. Although many are conscious of the amount of single-use and unnecessary waste we produce, this practice is ingrained in US culture as acting sustainable takes extra effort. The processing of raw materials and placing recyclables in the trash are both unsustainable habits that contribute to climate change, which leads to further damages like the destruction of biodiversity and habitat loss. To move towards global healing, we must focus on the systems of individual communities’. To prevent further advancement in the climate crisis, members of our community must advocate for a cultural shift towards recycling by taking extra efforts to sort recyclables and practice sustainability.
Since members of the Los Gatos community and the greater Santa Clara County have access to proper recycling disposal services, it is their civic duty to follow through properly. When individuals fail to recycle goods, environmental problems on local and global scales ensue due to large amounts of raw material use, increased pollution, and climate change.
Los Gatos is incredibly fortunate to have accessible curbside recycling provided by West Valley Collection & Recycling (WVC&R). If you have ever seen a blue, green, or gray waste bin out on the street, or have them at your home, you have interacted with the company. WVC&R’s website gives ample resources on the process of recycling materials at a single and multi-family level. In addition, WVC&R hosts a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), which reuses 75 percent of recycled material. Nationally, MRFs only achieve an average of 35 percent recovery rate.
World Wildlife reports that 14 percent of Americans do not have access to any recycling resources, and 33 percent do not have access to curbside recycling services; furthermore, Forbes reports the leading reason people do not recycle is the lack of convenience. Members of our community need to get over the mental barrier that recycling is too much work by exploring and using local recycling programs; after all, we are fortunate for the convenience of curbside service.
Individuals can participate in recycling by keeping a separate recycling bin, thoroughly cleaning out any food scrap or debris from recyclables before recycling them, and then empty recyclables from the plastic liner bag into the curbside bin. The plastic liner bags can actually harm the machines of MRFs, decreasing the chances of materials actually making it to a new form.
In several cases, having a recycling bin is simply not enough. People often haphazardly throw anything they assume is recyclable into the bin, which ultimately results in more human and mechanical action on WVC&R’s end. To lower the energy going into sorting recycled materials and maximize the amount that actually gets recycled, read the recyclables list on the WVC&R website for single home families, which is accessible through the QR code on this page.
The production of plastics and single-use products requires a substantial amount of raw materials and energy use. However, distributors of single-use goods — like the coffee machine producer Nespresso — are working on programs to mitigate the stress of single-use on local recycling systems. Nespresso specifically hosts a program where users can send back aluminum coffee pods for them to process, rather than entering the landfill. This goes to show there are countless ways consumers can further the life of single-use items, so they should follow through, even if it is less convenient for them.
If items do not make it to donation centers or are not properly recycled, they end up in the trash. Although procedures exist in order to protect surrounding communities from the harmful effects of landfills, they still have adverse consequences. Compacted trash decomposes anaerobically — without air, producing CH4 rather than CO2 as it is compressed — and emits methane gas, a known harm to our protective ozone layer. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide gas. The less trash in landfills, the better, as less gas enters the atmosphere and the airways of humans who live around those decomposing materials.
Those living near landfills risk their quality of life, as the decrease in oxygen hinders the body’s ability to conduct natural processes. This can link to severe issues such as cancerous cell development, loss of coordination, a weakened immune system, and a handful of general health issues. Given these risks, and considering the accessibility Los Gatos residents have, we must take action.
Reversing the stigma that sustainable practices require too much effort is something that will take everyone’s contribution. Taking into consideration the state of our planet, more specifically water quality, climate, and conservation of natural resources, it is clear that this mindset needs to change — specifically in our community, where we have access to WVC&R’s services and a strong MRF.
As many do not contribute to recycling based on its lack of personal convenience, it is apparent that they are unaware of the repercussions that make it entirely worthwhile to go through the extra effort. In providing adequate resources, hopefully now you can make practical and necessary sustainable lifestyle and cultural changes. As humans generate more and more waste, it is important to have a thorough understanding of how this consumption harms the environment around us and truly care enough to apply changes.
(Sources: EDF, Forbes, West Valley Collection & Recycling, WM, World Wildlife)