All Bottled Up

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

image of squished plastic bottleLast night, while shopping with my family, my three year-old son asked an employee for a recycling bin to dispose of a plastic bottle he had been drinking water from. Needless to say, the store clerk was baffled by the request of such a young citizen. Unfortunately, neither the store nor the shopping center had recycling bins, despite the fact that thousands of people visit the mall on a daily basis. I had to take the bottle home with me.

While recycling has increased in various municipalities throughout the island, and outreach efforts by non-profit groups and environmental agencies such as EPA have made an impact on citizens, widespread recycling at public places is still not very common in Puerto Rico. A recent article in The Economist analyzes the fact that while recycling is good for the environment, it is costly due to the meticulous process of manual separation. Some countries and cities, concerned about those costs, are shipping the materials to other parts of the world where manual labor is less expensive.

Materials like aluminum, steel, paper and glass are easy to recycle and cost-effective due to the high cost and damage to the environment caused by mining and refining the raw materials. Recycling aluminum has turned into a profitable business, even for individuals who collect cans. These monetary incentives are having an impact. For example, in recent beach and river cleanups, aluminum cans are not among the commonly found items. Plastic bottles and related items, however, are easily found. While most glass is recyclable and some states provide an incentive for those who return glass items, it is not feasible in every place and I find myself collecting these at every cleanup too.

Even though the plastic industry has developed a series of markers to identify recyclable plastics, not all municipal and state programs recycle them. While researching some information for this blog, I learned that plastic needs to be meticulously separated. Even a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can ruin the melt of recycled plastic.

In our house, we recycle at a rate of 40% (sometimes it can be more) and we try our best to practice the 3 R’s. I think it is time to stress the first R: Reduce more. That way I won’t have to take a plastic bottle home to recycle it anymore.