Learn

Learn about the problem. This is a great resource for inspiration when creating your art. How does recycling work and is it actually effective in solving climate change? What can you do to help? Find out on our learn page.

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What is Recycling?

Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. 

 

Theoretically, it allows companies and individuals to repurpose their trash rather than see it piling up in a landfill. However, today's recycling processes are far from perfect.

How much recycling is actually recycled?

Some facts:

  • Out of 267.8 million tons of municipal solid waste generated by Americans in 2017, only 94.2 million tons were recycled or composted.

  •  75 percent of American waste is recyclable, but we only recycle about 35 percent of it.

  • Only 8 percent of discarded plastics were recycled in 2017.

Something that is often overlooked when people recycle is how much of their trash actually gets recycled. You can throw things you think are recyclable in the recycling bin and feel good about yourself but are those things really being recycled?

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By Josie Gauthier - Elementary School Honorable Mention

Plastics deep dive

Plastics are labeled with the recycling triangle and a number from 1-7 in the middle. These numbers depict the type of plastic the item is made from.

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The problem

Plastics have one of the slowest decomposing periods with a rate of up to 500 years. Worse yet, plastic is rarely recycled. (9% in the US) The marginal amounts of plastic that are recycled are downgraded. Basically, you can't use a recycled water bottle to make another water bottle.

So why is so little plastic recycled?

It's hard to separate and clean. Oftentimes, your supposedly recyclable yogurt cups are actually sent to land fills because they have that piece of aluminum foil glued to the cup, or there are pieces of unfinished yogurt residue stuck to the inside.

 

Examples of how plastics are mostly unrecyclable:

  • Coffee cups because the inside is coated with a thin layer of plastic. This layer of plastic keeps the coffee from soaking through the paper and helps keep the coffee hot. But it also cannot easily be separated from the paper and that makes it not recyclable. The same goes for cartons used for milk, broth and juice.

  • PVC (plastic marked with a “3”.) 

  • Polystyrene (plastic marked with a “6”.) 

  • Any plastic marked with a “7”.

  • Plastic bags because they get stuck in the sorting system and sometimes cause huge jams.

  • Any type of plastic that is dirty—i.e. has food residue in it.

  • Small plastic items like lids. Even though they may be used on recyclable bottles, they are usually of an unknown type of plastic. In addition, they are too small to be effectively sorted and recycled.

  • Colored plastic. For the most part only clear plastic (such as water bottles) are actually recycled. For colored plastic to be recycled effectively it really needs to be sorted by color and that's almost impossible because each manufacturer has their own color pallet which.

What can you do?

Upcycling is the process of using materials you would throw out or recycle and making something greater out of it. Do something meaningful with these unrecyclable materials and create an art piece that incorporates a material that would otherwise be thrown away. Apply the knowledge you learned here and think of a way to express them through art. 

 

Thank you for taking the time to read our learn page! Feel free to do your own research to gain inspiration for this year's theme: Reuse of materials in a changing world.