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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

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How Recycling Got So Baffling

And they show you what regulatory ideas are being debated around the country: for instance, passing on the cost of recycling to manufacturers, or restricting the use of that triangular, “chasing arrows” recycling symbol — which, it turns out, doesn’t mean that something is, in fact, recyclable.

I love the illustrations that accompany the story, by Rinee Shah. I’m partial to those canary-yellow high-tops. If you spot a pair at your local thrift store, drop me a line.

Keep in mind that other countries do recycling differently. I’m on a reporting trip in South Korea this week, where a half-dozen bins are on offer. Glass bottles in one, plastic bottles in another (you need to peel off labels first), cans in another, paper, single-use plastic bags in yet another. The last is for whatever is destined for the landfill. My colleague in Seoul, John Yoon, tells me primary school children learn how to sort it all.

Two years ago, in Zurich, I noticed there were separate bins, usually near shopping centers, to separate glass bottles by color: clear, brown, green. There were individual bins for tins of oil, plastic bottles, and electronic waste.

And then there’s the armies of men, women and children in Delhi, Nairobi and beyond, who are some of the world’s most able recyclers. They’re some of the poorest people on Earth, and they make a living picking through waste and plucking what can be sold to a recycling center.

Waste pickers are a fixture in some of the richest cities in America, too, these days. My kid and I have discussed whether we should save our recyclables for them. They’re often the experts at what can actually get recycled.

I wonder whether that may be a better way for us to actually keep things out of the landfill and help some of our neighbors make a living. I don’t know the answer yet, but the question itself reflects how broken the recycling system is.

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