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  • Writer's pictureSophia Wang

Recycling is Backfiring, Researchers Say

According to new research from an interdisciplinary group of experts at the University of Virginia, many people overemphasize recycling in the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” This has caused the process to backfire, as “the public has come to mistakenly consider recycling a get-out-of–jail-free card, confusing which goods are actually recyclable in the first place and ignoring the growing waste production catastrophe.”

The researchers conducted an experiment where participants listed “reduce,” “reuse,” and “recycle” in order of importance, resulting in a tremendous 78% of participants getting the order wrong. The correct order is the one originally stated in the slogan. A second experiment was done where people were asked to sort waste into recycling, compost, and landfill, showing many people recycling things that are non-recyclable.

Over-emphasizing recycling and recycling the wrong materials have caused microplastics in oceans, land masses, and bodies, and increased greenhouse gas emissions from the production of these materials. Even though governments are trying to limit or even ban single-use plastics, the companies creating them are continuing to make these materials. Therefore, the responsibility of reducing, reusing, and recycling falls on consumers, who aren’t as knowledgeable about these processes as we should be. In order to increase the effectiveness of recycling and environmental sustainability itself, consumers must educate themselves on the slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle.”


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