Between climate change, global pollution, and a spiraling amount of waste created every single day, we all want to find ways — even small ways — to help. And for some people, the easiest way is to recycle. You have a house, plenty of room to separate your garbage, and your city provides different color bins so you don’t get confused between pizza and the box it comes in. And everything works out, right? Well, of course not! Here, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of recycling and make sure you’re not doing it all wrong.
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- Does recycling really help save the planet? Only if you do it the right way (which we’ll discuss).
- What would be the unintended consequences of banning plastics entirely?
- Why some materials that could be recycled aren’t.
- What are the massive benefits of recycling metals?
- How many resources are saved when we recycle paper?
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, on Instagram, and on YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know!
- Connect with David at his website, on Twitter, on Instagram, on TikTok, and on YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider leaving your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- MEL Science: Go to melscience.com and use code JORDAN for 60% off your first month’s subscription
- WRKOUT: Go to wrkout.com and mention Jordan Harbinger for 20% off your first training package
- Apartments.com: Learn more at apartments.com
- Progressive: Get a free online quote at progressive.com
Resources from This Episode:
- 88 Pounds Of Plastic Found In Stomach Of Dead Whale | NPR
- Kim Ragaert: Plastics Rehab | TEDx VlerickBusinessSchool
- Why Is Recycling So Important? The Dirty Truth behind Our Trash | ZME Science
- What Would Happen If Everyone in the World Stopped Recycling? | AMNH
- What Percentage of Recycling Actually Gets Recycled? | Green Matters
- What Happens Now That China Won’t Take US Recycling | The Atlantic
- Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling | Yale E360
- Paper Facts | Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School District
- Recycling Plastics – What the Numbers Mean + Cheat Sheet | Green Living Tips
680: Recycling | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show, where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I break down a topic that you may never have thought about. We open things up and debunk common misconceptions — topics, such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates are nonsense, why tipping makes no sense, chemtrails, and a whole lot.
[00:00:25] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes to authors, thinkers to performers.
[00:00:44] If you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about it, our starter packs are way you do it. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show — topics like persuasion, influence, disinformation, cyber warfare, negotiation and communication, China and North Korea, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:09] Special announcement, by the way, I'm going to be doing a live show like live in person, in real life. I'm going to be interviewing Ryan Holiday, author Ryan Holiday. That's going to be in Los Angeles at the Venice West on June 13th. So tickets are available. I'd love to meet you in person. Tickets are available at jordanharbinger.com/tickets. Again, jordanharbinger.com/tickets, June 13th at the Venice West in Los Angeles. I'll be interviewing Ryan Holiday and I hope to see you there.
[00:01:37] Today, on Skeptical Sunday, recycling between climate change, global pollution and a spiraling amount of waste created every single day, we all want to find ways to help even in small ways. And for some people, the easiest way is to recycle. You have a house, with plenty of room to separate your garbage. Your city provides different colored bins. So you don't get confused between pizza and the box that it comes in and everything works out, right? Well, obviously not. This is Skeptical Sundays. I'm joined by comedian David C. Smalley, and I'm pretty darn sure he's going to ruin all of that for us.
[00:02:09] David C. Smalley: That's what I'm here for Jordan. Your intro really showed off your big house, owning different color bin having privilege.
[00:02:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it was a nice flex right there.
[00:02:17] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah. Nice job. For others, recycling is a huge pain in the ass. You have a tiny apartment, one trash can. The recycled products have to be carried to a dark alley where murderers lie in wait to chase you because they know that when you run in flip-flops it feels like one of those nightmares where you can't get away.
[00:02:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:02:34] David C. Smalley: Also raccoons freak me out. They have literal hands — sorry, this isn't about me. The point is recycling is worth it. And are you even doing it correctly? So look, whether you're listening and you're the perfect recycler who thinks you're doing everything right, or you never recycle, and you hope that this episode is somehow going to justify your laziness, just strap in because I got a little something for everyone in this one.
[00:02:58] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So let's start with the basics. We all know recycling — recycling is good for the planet. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
[00:03:04] David C. Smalley: Well, one small qualifier, recycling properly, greatly benefits the planet. If we do it right, it reduces waste in landfills. It conserves energy, it creates jobs, it prevents pollution and it conserves other natural resources like trees and water. So yeah, if we do it right, sure.
[00:03:20] Jordan Harbinger: I know it also helps in preserving land because we have to like mine fewer raw materials if we use recycled products, right? We don't have to dig it out of the ground.
[00:03:28] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And that's probably one of the biggest benefits, reducing the destruction of previously untouched nature, because we're just using things that were already made by destroying other lands. So that's sort of summed up in the natural resources piece of it but I do think it's important to point out that distinction. The issue is our plastic problem is massive. In 2019, a dead whale washed ashore. And it was found to have 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach. And there are some environmental reports that say if we keep going like we're going today that by 2050, which sounds kind of far away, but it's only 28 years away—
[00:04:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:04:04] David C. Smalley: —there'll be more plastic than fish in the ocean. And that's terrifying.
[00:04:09] Jordan Harbinger: It's a gross also. But I always — this is the nerd in me, I suppose — I always wonder, are there just talking about by volume, right? Because if you're talking about pieces, you can always break down plastic into smaller and smaller pieces. So that's kind of an unfair thing to say like there's a trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean.
[00:04:23] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:04:23] Jordan Harbinger: They got to mean by weight which is—
[00:04:25] David C. Smalley: Probably so.
[00:04:26] Jordan Harbinger: —also gross.
[00:04:26] David C. Smalley: Also probably the biggest factor of this is the overfishing of the oceans—
[00:04:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:04:31] David C. Smalley: —which they're not talking about here because this is not about ruining the oceans. This is about ruining recycling.
[00:04:36] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay. Okay. So it seems like we should move away from using plastics altogether at some point in the future. Probably not by 2050.
[00:04:43] David C. Smalley: I mean, look, if we develop something better then sure, but I think plastics have been unfairly demonized over the years.
[00:04:51] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:04:51] David C. Smalley: And this is where some activists are going to get a little frustrated with me, but just stick with me because I've got some data to back this up. So a lot of people who rail against plastic, they never address how much plastic actually helps our environment. Kim Ragaert is an engineer. She's an environmentalist. She's an expert on recycling plastics. She's even the professor of circular plastics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, just this TED Talk available online. And I want to encourage everyone to go watch it. She says in there that plastic extends the life of a steak for 26 days. It extends the life of a cucumber for 11 days, just as a couple of examples. So plastics do a massive job in reducing food waste. And that plastic is almost always better for the environment as far as transport.
[00:05:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:05:36] David C. Smalley: So using bottled water as an example. Okay. It takes 24 times the amount of glass that it would take plastic to make a single water bottle.
[00:05:45] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, because of the thickness of a plastic bottle, yeah. Okay. That makes sense.
[00:05:49] David C. Smalley: Exactly. And then she talks about how much heavier the glass is, which means it's almost twice the cost to transport it. So think of the fossil fuels needed to burn in order to carry that much weight as opposed to plastic for the same amount of water.
[00:06:01] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, fine. But people are thinking glass gets reused all the time. I guess some plastic does, but it's not really the same.
[00:06:08] David C. Smalley: She does address that. She says that a glass bottle can be used about eight times before it needs to be melted down and formed into a new bottle. And between each use, it has to be cleaned with a lot of harsh chemicals. So you've got a ton of water—
[00:06:22] Jordan Harbinger: sure, I would hope so.
[00:06:22] David C. Smalley: —harsh chemicals. Yeah, you want it, but it's really bad for the environment to use those harsh chemicals, not to mention the production of those chemicals that need to be used in the cleaning of the glass bottles. And then once the glass needs to be melted down, it takes a load of energy to do so because the melting point for glass is 1500 degrees Celsius or about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
[00:06:42] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:06:42] David C. Smalley: So that's a lot of energy needed and a massive amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Plastic melted, just 300 degrees Celsius or 572 Fahrenheit. So with all this combined, even counting for the reuse of glass bottles. And if we only recycled half of our plastic bottles, we still need to use six times as much glass as we do plastic.
[00:07:04] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:07:05] David C. Smalley: As Professor Ragaert says, when we consider all the elements, glass is not the green champion, we would like it to be. It's how we in turn, fail to recycle plastics that actually creates the problem.
[00:07:16] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So it's not just the bottles. What about — this is me. I'm going to move the goalposts now that you prove me wrong. It's not just the bottles. What about the dreaded plastic bags? I actually drove by a landfill, I think, it was in Hawaii a couple of months ago, several months ago, the whole area around the landfill, just every bush was covered in plastic bags that had blown up. They're gross, right? They're everywhere. If there's that much in the landfill, I don't even want to think about what's in the ocean, even though it's not technically a single-use product. I just don't know anybody who takes old plastic bags back to the grocery store if you even can do that. I mean, at best, they're going to use it as a small trash bag for like the bathroom garbage. They've got to be as bad or worse for the environment, as we've been told, right?
[00:07:59] David C. Smalley: Well, again, she talks about this in her talk and it's important to step back and think about an overall carbon footprint.
[00:08:06] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:08:06] David C. Smalley: Or an overall footprint of the product being manufactured, cleaned, and so forth. She compares plastic bags to paper. That's the big question, right? Paper or plastic.
[00:08:16] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:08:17] David C. Smalley: She goes on to pretend, even if we recycle 100 percent of paper bags, which we know that we don't actually recycle all of them, but let's pretend that we do. And none of the plastic is because the plastic bags are not recyclable. She notes that the plastic weighs 20 grams, the paper weighs 50 grams. Paper requires a lot more energy to produce and to recycle. She says the overall footprint of the single-use plastic bag is so tiny. You have to reuse each paper bag four times for it to be as environmentally beneficial as one plastic bag.
[00:08:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I'm not doing that.
[00:08:50] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:08:50] Jordan Harbinger: I spill it on the second time I use it, if not the first and it's ruined.
[00:08:53] David C. Smalley: Exactly. And then when she compares the same numbers with cotton bags, it takes 173 uses of one cotton bag to equal one plastic bag. That's about three years of weekly shopping using this same bag over and over.
[00:09:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, man, it's tough because I guess, if you back out of that, you're like, "Okay, fine. That's a lot of plastic bags," but then also, that's provided you never lose your cotton bag or that it doesn't get a hole in it, or it gets too gross. And I think a lot of people think that because the bags are plastic, they can be recycled. I could swear that when I was a kid, my mom saved them and we recycled them. Maybe we just reused them.
[00:09:30] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:09:30] Jordan Harbinger: So tell us a little bit about why we can't recycle those. It seems like it should be able to recycle anything that's plastic, but I guess you really can't.
[00:09:36] David C. Smalley: Yeah. You should be able to, and technically you probably could, but the problem is we don't.
[00:09:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:09:40] David C. Smalley: Because those super-thin bags, they get caught up in the sorting machines. They clog up the line and because they're so thin, they get very easily contaminated. So they absorb liquids and things like that, that contaminate the recycling. And then when they're going along, the recycling belts, they drag contaminants in, you know, that are non-recyclable and things like that. They're just a pain in the ass.
[00:10:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:01] David C. Smalley: They're just not worth recycling. And it takes more carbon emissions dealing with the processing of the bags than it would be to just make new ones. So it's not environmentally sound, nor is it cost-effective. If you are collecting all of your recyclables and then putting them into a plastic grocery bag and then tossing it into the bin, every bit of that's being rejected and it's being sent to the landfill. It's not even making it to the recycle.
[00:10:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I think I mentioned this to a friend before on the show before it's called wish-cycling when you just put something in the recycling bin.
[00:10:31] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:10:31] Jordan Harbinger: And it's like, "This is for sure recyclable, it's a twisty tie." And it's like, "Nah, it's like metal and thin plastic." It's just going to be—
[00:10:37] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:10:38] Jordan Harbinger: The thin plastic is getting in the way of the metal. Throw it away. And you're like—
[00:10:41] David C. Smalley: Yep.
[00:10:41] Jordan Harbinger: —I feel better about it because it didn't go in my trash can. And I feel like that is like how I live my life, unfortunately.
[00:10:47] David C. Smalley: Yep. You're on the right track.
[00:10:47] Jordan Harbinger: The recycling plant doesn't have the labor power to open each bag, sort them all, clean the plastic, decontaminate, and constantly unclogged the machines, which is totally understandable.
[00:10:57] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And that's why the whole bag gets rejected regardless of the content. So a lot of people will get like a big trash bag, that the same trash bag they put their trash in. Load all their recyclables in it, and then toss them into the recycle bin thinking someone's going to open that up and empty all the recyclables out, they don't. The whole thing gets thrown away.
[00:11:15] Jordan Harbinger: That's not good. But hey, good lesson. Don't put your recyclables in a plastic bag thinking they're just going to go into the recycling machine. They're just going to throw it out as trash. So put the recyclable stuff in there and quit throwing your stupid plastic bags in there.
[00:11:26] Okay, so municipalities, I think like mine who are banning plastic bags, or you have to pay like 10 cents to get one if you forget because they're not recyclable. That's the justification here. Are these misguided policies or is there any wisdom to that at all?
[00:11:39] David C. Smalley: Absolutely. They're missing the larger point and they're not taking into account the overall footprint of each item. I mean, at least until we find something that's more eco-friendly to produce and recycle, it doesn't make sense to start banning plastics at all. Professor Ragaert, she ends her Talk by saying that if we outright banned plastics CO2 emissions would explode because the things we use to replace plastics have such harsh impacts on the environment from production to transport, to cleaning with chemicals, and even the water used to clean and reuse the stuff that is recyclable. So it's better to stick with plastics for now until we have something better, as long as we properly recycle it. And right now we're not.
[00:12:19] Jordan Harbinger: So, all right, moving on from plastic or glass jars. We're talking major metal recycling as well, right? People should be thinking about metal as a recyclable item. That was something that was recyclable when I was a child.
[00:12:31] David C. Smalley: Yeah, absolutely. And according to zmescience.com, recycling metal saves energy, reduces emissions, and it creates jobs.
[00:12:40] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:12:40] David C. Smalley: Here's some numbers for you using recycled metal known as scrap metal, instead of new metal, reduces mining waste by 97 percent. And it saves more than 90 percent on energy, depending on the material. And recycling metals create six times more jobs than sending the metals to a landfill.
[00:12:58] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So getting companies to do these things on a large scale, it sounds like that's where we're going to get the most bang for our buck.
[00:13:04] David C. Smalley: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I love to throw corporations under the bus any chance I can.
[00:13:08] Jordan Harbinger: I do. Call me, Dave Smalley.
[00:13:10] David C. Smalley: Yeah. But it seems, for the most part, these large companies tend to do a pretty good job of recycling, at least compared to the average consumer. Research shows that over 80 percent of litter is intentional by individuals like consumers, like me and you, that are just not recycling. Don't care. They drop trash on purpose because it's not that big of a deal. Like, "Oh, me picking up my one little red solo cup is going to save the planet."
[00:13:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, literally, yes.
[00:13:36] David C. Smalley: Exactly.
[00:13:36] Jordan Harbinger: The idea that other people aren't doing it. So screw it. That's super — that's absurd. I don't want to be friends with those people.
[00:13:42] David C. Smalley: Right. Nope. Same. The same applies to paper recycling. People think that they individually can't make that big of a difference. Think for a moment about how many reams of paper you've bought or all the wasted pages you threw away or notebooks where you didn't write on the back of each page or extra packets or flyers you printed for just in case for presentations or whatever that you threw away. And then consider that one ream of paper is six percent of a tree.
[00:14:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It reminds me of a, "Please consider the environment before printing this email."
[00:14:11] David C. Smalley: Right. And like we used to make fun of, they'd be like, "Oh, we're saving trees." And we would laugh and joke as though it's not that big of a deal. I can guarantee you, you alone have taken out multiple trees just from printing things. I mean, it's incredible.
[00:14:25] Jordan Harbinger: For sure — oops, I printed my MapQuest directions wrong. Let me just reprint this.
[00:14:29] David C. Smalley: Yup.
[00:14:29] Jordan Harbinger: Double-sided? Nah, paper is cheap. So just count the reams of paper in any office in like every 17 reams is a tree. Is that how the math works out?
[00:14:37] David C. Smalley: Pretty much. ZME Science reports that it's just a single ton of recycled paper saves 7,000 gallons of water.
[00:14:44] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:14:45] David C. Smalley: We have to keep thinking about that. Thinking about the electricity, think about the water, right? It's not just recycling that product. It's what goes into it. So recycling that paper not only takes care of the paper piece, but it also saves on other water production and other energy resources. Like energy, for example, it saves about 4,000 kilowatts of energy for every one ton of paper.
[00:15:04] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:15:05] David C. Smalley: That's enough electricity to power your home for six months.
[00:15:07] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow. That puts it into perspective. Yeah, I'm like 4,000. Is that a lot? I don't know. Yeah. Wow. Six months of electricity?
[00:15:12] David C. Smalley: Right. And paper takes up a lot of room in landfills. It stops things from sinking into the dirt and all kinds of things. So the more that's recycled, the better the landfills operate. So overall, the efforts of recycling right now, what we're doing results in about 80 to 95 million tons of material being diverted away from landfills and incinerators every year.
[00:15:34] Jordan Harbinger: You know what I enjoy even more than lying to myself about how milk cartons are recyclable? The fine products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
[00:15:42] This episode is sponsored in part by MEL Science. I grew up learning science through boring textbooks, but science is all around us and most people learn better when it's interactive. MEL Science kits inspire a love of science at a key age and take education to the next level through monthly hands-on projects, where they include everything. You don't need to go out and buy any extra parts. Choose different course options like stem projects, or learn the basics of computer programming and coding, conduct safe chemistry experiments. Learn physics. There's even medicine where you can practice suturing, dental cleaning, you can learn how to use a micropipette and a centrifuge. That's particularly cool. I haven't seen that anywhere else before. These projects are good for ages four to 99. And Jayden who's not even three is all about this type of sensory education, playing with stuff and putting stuff together. Well, mostly taking stuff apart. But we love to explain what's actually happening. And that's what I love about MEL Science. You're not just like, "Oh cool." You're actually learning what is going on and how it works. Pause the subscription at any time.
[00:16:37] Jen Harbinger: Get 60 percent off your first-month subscription by using promo code JORDAN. Go to melscience.com. That's M-E-L-science.com, promo code JORDAN. And this offer is only good for a month. Go to melscience.com, promo code JORDAN.
[00:16:52] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Wrkout. This is my buddy's training company. I've told you about this before. It's been a year since I started trying this virtual personal training service. I was skeptical that you could get a trainer through the freaking Internet. I mean, how could that work, right? They can't spot you. But it's actually been one of the best decisions that I've ever made. Now keep in mind. I've tried a lot of things when it comes to my fitness, but nothing I've tried has the convenience and personal connection that Wrkout has. This has helped me so much. I actually increased my weekly sessions to four times a week. If you think you can't, just know that even my 80-year-old mother is hooked on Wrkout and does it, I think, two or three times a week. I look forward to my session. That hasn't always been the case for working out. My trainers, Chad and Kareem, which are the most two like trainer names ever, they've gotten to know me. They know how to push me. They know when I'm not feeling it. It's just been so much more convenient. I barely missed a workout in like a year and now. It's so much better than anything else that I've tried. I'm stronger than I've ever been. I've got visible abs and I'm 42. The dad bought is on fire. Wrkout also has cool new features and tools that further elevate the online training experience, like a new countdown and interval timers. They're going to have heart rate integration right there in the app. So if you want highly vetted world-class personal training and you want to change your body and get more mobility, go to wrkout.com. That's W-R-K-O-U-T.com/jordan. W-R-K-O-U-T.com/jordan. So it's workout without the O. I promise you, you will be glad you did.
[00:18:19] Thank you so much for listening to and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps the lights on around here. All the discount codes and URLs are all in one place, jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for sponsors using the search box on the website. Please consider supporting those who support us.
[00:18:35] Now back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:18:38] So, okay. This is clearly vital. We empty those bottles of Crystal Geyser. We drain that handle of Grey Goose, finished the old Lucky Charms. And then we put them in a bag, stick them in the dumpster, out on the curb or whatever. And then when the garbage truck comes around, I'm like, I've done my part in reducing waste and helping the environment. So please tell me that I can actually feel good about myself and we can wrap this up.
[00:19:00] David C. Smalley: No, I refuse. That's not what I do on this show. Like, look, I'll pull the curtain back here. The concept of recycling is a brilliant invention, right? In theory, look, it saves energy. We've gone through that. It creates jobs. It reduces waste and allows average people like you and me to help combat a massive global issue. But it's a bit like that brand new director at your job who has some amazing ideas but has no idea how things actually work.
[00:19:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:19:27] David C. Smalley: So over the years, this boom in recycling has led to a number of problems that are actually making the issue worse. And I mean like a lot worse. And one of the main problems is contamination, which in theory is when trash and recyclables get mixed together. And I think a lot of people just don't think about that.
[00:19:44] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting. So people who recycle because they think it's the right thing to do end up mixing things that should not actually maybe be mixed. Right? Like my motor oil is now in my pizza box, so it's not just oil, that's liquid and it's not just cardboard. It's like oily cardboard that can only be a pollutant for forever.
[00:20:02] David C. Smalley: Exactly. Sometimes we mix things together. Like we're trying to recycle a pizza box. It has melted cheese and dried pepperoni stuck inside. But other times we just don't think about the mixing that's already happened. Like tomato sauce is still inside the jar. When you toss it into the recycle bin or like squeeze bottles of condiments, like ketchup, mustard, or barbecue sauce, they still have residual products inside. And all of that can disqualify those items from being recycled because they're just considered contaminated. Nobody wants to use those products.
[00:20:31] Jordan Harbinger: What I thought that I assumed that was kind of like part of the deal. Like they expect that. So we're talking, do we have to wash out every squeeze bottle, every glass jar, every salad dressing container? Like, does it have to be clean for it to go in the recycle bin for my good deed to be accomplished successfully?
[00:20:48] David C. Smalley: Absolutely.
[00:20:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:20:49] David C. Smalley: This is what I was talking about when it comes to recycling correctly and where some people may get a little frustrated with this episode. The way it works is these plastics are melted down. Okay. They're put into sheets and they're sold back to companies who want to make products from recycled material. But if the sheet is soaked in barbecue sauce, mustard, and nobody wants to buy it. So washing the products is actually super important.
[00:21:13] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man. And like, ah, pardon me? Do you have any Grey Poupon? Actually, yes, in my perfectly good brand new plastic sheeting I bought. There's a couple of ounces right in the freaking middle.
[00:21:22] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:21:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, that's a few extra steps, but it seems like it's worth it, in the long run, to make this stuff actually recyclable. Otherwise, you're just putting trash into the recycling path and they're like, "Ah, great. Now I can't use any of this because there's Kraft Mayo in the middle of this whole thing that I was going to use."
[00:21:39] David C. Smalley: And it gets worse actually.
[00:21:41] Jordan Harbinger: Of course, it does.
[00:21:42] David C. Smalley: Even worse news is that — of course, it is the Skeptical Sundays. Of course, it gets worse. Even if you do it. There's a good chance. It's still not good enough. And this is where I don't want to discourage people from going through those steps, but I want to encourage more people to do it correctly so that they're not being part of the problem. So contamination has increased dramatically over the years, largely with the rise of what's called single-stream recycling. It's the system we have in the US which is basically where a neighborhood mixes all of your recycling in the collection truck, instead of sorting them out into different commodities.
[00:22:13] So like, there are some neighborhoods who will be like, put paper here, put plastic here, put glass here. And the issue is people are like, "Oh, that's too complicated. I don't want to separate all my stuff." So they're like, "Okay, dummies, what if we could just get one big bucket that says, recycle, will you do it then? And somebody goes, "Oh, sure. I'll throw my stuff in there." But the problem is if you link all your stuff together as a neighborhood, you know? Yeah. It may make it faster and easier for people to do it, but it also means that even if you wash all your stuff off, something could get contaminated by other households in the area.
[00:22:47] Jordan Harbinger: This is so — I'm getting so angry. Because I'm going to be cleaning out all these jars, rinsing out all my stupid ranch bottles, and then some jack squat down the road, tosses out a can of tomato juice and just ruins everything. And they're like, "Oh, we got to throw this away now." Meanwhile, I just spent like 20 minutes cleaning up all that crap.
[00:23:04] David C. Smalley: Yeah. That's exactly what I'm telling you. And my hope is rather than discouraging people from saying, "Well, screw it. It's not going to be worth it."
[00:23:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:10] David C. Smalley: I'm hoping that those jack squats become less jack squats and stop doing that.
[00:23:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:15] David C. Smalley: When you throw out contaminated stuff, you're not just potentially ruining your own recycling. You're potentially contaminating half of a truckload or potentially a whole truckload, depending on how much crap you're throwing in there.
[00:23:28] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:23:29] David C. Smalley: According to Waste Management, which is one of the largest trash and recycling companies in the world, about a quarter of all items placed in a recycling container actually are not recyclable through curbside programs, but experts believe it's actually much higher than that.
[00:23:43] Jordan Harbinger: I believe that. After the show, I definitely believe — now, I'm like, is it 99 percent of things that I put in there just get thrown away? Because I feel like I try to recycle all kinds — like I said before, wish-cycling is like my main, that's how we roll, unfortunately.
[00:23:56] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:23:56] Jordan Harbinger: All right. So not only could it be my fault for accidentally mixing things, my neighbor could be screwing up my hard work. But on top of that, just there's more obstacles in the way of recycling things I think are totally fine to put in the bin.
[00:24:09] David C. Smalley: Yeah, Jordan, much like your first kiss. It's so much worse than you think, right? Contamination makes the cost of process recycling, just skyrocket. Systems and people have to sort through the contamination, they clean what they can. They separate and discard items. It's actually is even dangerous for some of these people to have to go into these machines and get things that are contaminated.
[00:24:32] Jordan Harbinger: I believe that.
[00:24:32] David C. Smalley: And those materials also back to the fossil fuel thing. If you're hauling contaminated materials around, you're burning up fossil fuels for stuff that's not recyclable. So you're just wasting energy. You're wasting fossil fuels, you're wasting gas. And then, it gets clogged up in these machines at the recycling facilities and they pose hazards to the waste management workers. It would be like if your Excel spreadsheet had a reference error, but the reference error was a takeout container of spaghetti bolognese from Whole Foods. Like it's disgusting and it's terrible and it's dangerous.
[00:25:04] And on top of that, the secondary issue is that contaminated recyclables saturate tons of otherwise good material that it come in contact with. So even if it doesn't happen, bouncing around your neighborhood truck or in your neighborhood dumpster, it could be perfectly fine and then get to the recycling plant and then be contaminated by contaminated products.
[00:25:24] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. So this is a problem, like every single step of the way, it's getting screwed up, potentially. This is precarious.
[00:25:31] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And what I said a few moments ago is that companies tend to recycle better than consumers. That's technically true, but it's important to note that many corporations are pre-contaminating items during the production of plastic containers or bags.
[00:25:46] Jordan Harbinger: What do you mean?
[00:25:47] David C. Smalley: Well, when I say contamination, I really mean mixing materials in this sense. Not necessarily splashing it with food.
[00:25:53] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay.
[00:25:54] David C. Smalley: After hearing that we were going to do recycling on a Skeptical Sunday episode, a listener named Jeff Stauffer reached out and he was gracious enough to have a meeting with me and provide me some really detailed information about the production of bags and containers that so many of us recycle on a daily basis.
[00:26:11] So Jeff works as what's called a flexographic plate maker, and it's like a dye used to print on plastic containers. So while he's not exactly a recycling expert, he definitely knows how it all works. And he knows how the packages are made. So one example he showed me is a package that says, "I'm paper, I'm recyclable," on it. It's stamped on the front.
[00:26:29] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:26:30] David C. Smalley: And that's technically true because that part where it's stamped is. But there's a thin layer of polyethylene on the inside for protection against moisture. And it allows papers to be sealable so that they can close the bag for freshness, right? So while the outside says recyclable, the product is either not at all recyclable or it's going to be way more difficult to recycle when it gets to the plant because the products are mixed.
[00:26:55] Jordan Harbinger: So in order to recycle this thing properly, you'd have to like peel this invisible inner lining away from the paper cover. Yeah, I'm definitely — I mean, no one is doing that.
[00:27:03] David C. Smalley: Right. Well, I asked him. That was exactly my response. I'm like, "Wait, so you're telling me—" and he just started laughing. He just said, "That's not feasible."
[00:27:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:27:12] David C. Smalley: But it could come down to percentages paper to plastic ratio. So they're getting more and more regulations where they're like, "Well, if it's at least 50/50, or if it's at —" then they're finding ways to do it. And hopefully, with technological advances, this is going to be easier and easier to recycle. So it's not just us. It's also a failure on the part of our recycling processes as a whole.
[00:27:34] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So the outside of the paper, the inside lining is made from — is it polyethylene?
[00:27:38] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:27:39] Jordan Harbinger: Is that a problem because polyethylene is not recyclable or is it a problem because they are married together and you can't do the same thing to both things?
[00:27:46] David C. Smalley: That's a great question. So it is recyclable on its own and that's the exact problem he's addressing. So when you bind together multiple polymers, even if they're all recyclable individually, you're failing the recycled test because they all have different melting points.
[00:28:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:28:01] David C. Smalley: So. Thin layer of paper, stuck to one thin layer of polyethylene. Even if you scrub it down, wash it off, and shake the sillies out, where does it go during sorting? Does it go to the paper section? No, it's contaminated by plastic stuck to it. And if you send it to the plastic side, the paper probably just disintegrates and in many cases doesn't even get recycled. So the key to recycling is the way it works at the plant is that they melt it down back to what's known as a granulated state, and then they have them solidified into blocks or sheets like I said, and then a company buys that stuff. So if it's a contaminated product or if it's supposed to be polymer but it's got some sort of paper in it, it's considered a contaminated mixed product and they can't be sold. And if it can't be sold, then it's getting rejected. So it's not being recycled. So even if it's not rejected because of mustard, it might as well have mustard all over it because it all goes to the same place.
[00:28:52] Jordan Harbinger: But the package has the "I'm recyclable" label on the front. Like, is that just marketing? Is that just to feel better about buying this?
[00:28:59] David C. Smalley: It's technically true when they print the paper, the paper is recyclable. So they stamp that on there, even if they know good and well that in order for that paper to be used, they have to stick polymer on it or some sort of polyethylene — look when you have a model laminate, which is scientifically known as a mono-polyethylene laminate, it's recyclable. It basically just means you use one type of plastic. That's all it means.
[00:29:21] He showed me this rice bag, for example, it's made by Oryza. It's O-R-Y-Z-A for anyone who wants to look it up. It's made with polypropylene. And it's what he called the proper way to do it. It's a single type of plastic used for the entire bag. So the outside the inside, it's all one type of plastic. So when that thing is done, the whole thing can be recycled. It's all at the same melting point and it works, but other companies use different types of plastics to either make things shiny or increase the consumer interest in the product. But they're sacrificing the recyclability of the package by doing that.
[00:29:55] Jordan Harbinger: I feel like I've seen this like on a Cheetos where we know, where you open the top. Like, oh, there's a thin layer where they print the Chester Cheetah and in the words, and I'm like, that is not the same thing as the inside foil.
[00:30:07] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:30:07] Jordan Harbinger: And it's like, now the foil is not recyclable and the plastic, thing's not recyclable because it's attached to the foil. I feel like I see this a lot now that I know that it's a thing. So companies are making products more appealing to customers, but of course, it's hurting the environment in the process.
[00:30:20] David C. Smalley: Right. And it's hurting the overall ways that we can recycle. So this could be seen as a failure of the overall process, but it's also the evil doing of corporations. You knew I would come back to this. You knew I would come back to this.
[00:30:32] Jordan Harbinger: Naturally.
[00:30:33] David C. Smalley: Because they just know better. Another example, Professor Ragaert used in her Talk was dark plastic bottles. So these deeply colored green spray bottles are blue, shiny bottles like Adams Flea & Tick spray, or black shampoo bottles, some cleaning materials, red body wash — I'm looking at you Old Spice, the automatic sorting machines don't recognize dark-colored plastics as recyclable. So again, this is a technological issue that companies are working to resolve, but in the meantime, the manufacturers know this is an issue, but they sell more products from dark-colored bottles. So they keep cranking them out.
[00:31:09] Jordan Harbinger: Is that because it's opaque? So the machine looks at it and says, "I don't know if this is plastic," right?
[00:31:14] David C. Smalley: Yep.
[00:31:14] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:31:14] David C. Smalley: Exactly.
[00:31:15] Jordan Harbinger: So the colored plastic is recyclable, but kind of sort of not really, if the machines don't know any better because they can't tell what it is.
[00:31:21] David C. Smalley: Right. So it's recyclable if — right? It's one of those.
[00:31:25] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:31:25] David C. Smalley: It's like if the person on the line catches it by eye, or if a human sorter gets to it before the machine rejects it, or if the machine makes a mistake and accidentally lets it through, or that particular municipality has a super machine that can detect it. But in general, the majority of dark plastics still get rejected to the landfills.
[00:31:44] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. What about the cleaners or the chemicals that are white bottles with color plastic wraps? You know, you've seen those a lot where it's like shrink wrapped in a different kind of plastic or around the bottom?
[00:31:53] David C. Smalley: Yeah, it's like the 409 or like a Fantastik or some kind of cleaner like that. Yeah, those bottles are white, even though you look at them and go, that's not a white bottle.
[00:32:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:32:00] David C. Smalley: That's a really good question. So that's all over the place too, because as long as both — and this is where it makes sense, but so many people aren't going to know what to do with this information. As long as both the label and the bottle are made from the same type of plastic, it can be recycled together. But if it's a different type of plastic or a paper label, one may contaminate the other during the process and either be rejected altogether or only part of it will be recycled. Meaning if you take one thicker plastic down to its melting point, it might completely disintegrate, ruin, or destroy the other part or vice versa. But again, it depends on the municipality and it depends on the equipment and the staff they have available. So you just never really know.
[00:32:40] Jordan Harbinger: Speaking of shipping garbage in from China, here's a word from our sponsors. We'll be right back.
[00:32:47] This episode is sponsored in part by apartments.com. Have you ever had one of those moments where you realize it's time to find a new place? At apartments.com, they call that an out-of-apartment experience. Maybe you're lugging the trash bag down a six-floor walkup when it burst open right as you reach the dumpster or it could strike the second he realized the change machine at the Laundromat is broken. Or maybe it hits when you receive some life-altering news, like finding out you're going to be a parent. The first thing to do after an out-of-apartment experience is start your search for a new place at apartments.com. They've helped millions of renters find their perfect place to live, whether it's an apartment, a townhome, a condo, or even a house, and with their 3D virtual tours, you can scour every inch of the listing. Because sometimes two dimensions, just ain't enough. The features don't end there. apartments.com also has powerful search tools that will help you find a place that meets all of your requirements. So when you're having one of those moments, take a moment and check out apartments.com. The place to find a place.
[00:33:39] This episode is also sponsored by Progressive insurance. Most of you listening right now are probably multitasking. So yeah, while you're listening to me, you're probably also driving, cleaning, exercising, maybe doing a little grocery shopping, but if you're not in some kind of moving vehicle, there's something else you can be doing right now, getting an auto quote from progressive insurance. It's easy. You could save money by doing it right from your phone. Drivers who saved by switching to progressive save over $700 on average. And auto customers qualify for an average of seven discounts, discounts for having multiple vehicles on your policy, being a homeowner and more. So just like your favorite podcast, Progressive will be with you twenty four 24/7, 365 days a year. So you are protected no matter what. Multitask right now, quote your car insurance at progressive.com to join the over 27 million drivers who trust Progressive.
[00:34:24] Jen Harbinger: Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. National Annual Average Insurance Savings by new customers surveyed who saved with Progressive between June 2020 and May 2021. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
[00:34:37] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks so much for listening to and supporting the show. Please do consider supporting those who support us. All the codes, all the deals on one page, you can find it on your phone, jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for any sponsor using the search box on the website as well. Again, jordanharbinger.com/deals.
[00:34:56] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:34:59] So in a perfect world, they would label each item on whether or not they were the same plastics. And then we would know if we have to take that label off the bottle to recycle the bottle.
[00:35:09] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And that perfect world is known as Europe.
[00:35:13] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:35:13] David C. Smalley: So, they have regulations—
[00:35:15] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:35:15] David C. Smalley: —on stamping PP or PE saying like which plastics are used in which products, so that people know if it's one type of polymer or multiple plastics or whatever. And while I was on this Skype call with Jeff Stauffer, he was holding up items in Germany from his own home, showing me these labels on his household items saying like, you know, here's different types of plastics used in this container. I'm checking stuff here in America, going, "Mine just says recycle me." Like this has a couple of arrows with a number in the middle, but we don't know what the hell this is. And nobody understands it.
[00:35:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:35:46] David C. Smalley: And looking further into it, there are no federal regulations on labeling plastic products in the US so as is the case with most things in America, we're not as good as we think we are. And most of us have no idea what the hell we're doing or what's going on. And just a side note, I personally think we need to spend more time on things like this, you know, in schools like how to recycle and how to save the oceans and human effects on climate change and maybe less time on PhD-level calculus and trigonometry, which 98 percent of students will never use again but—
[00:36:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:16] David C. Smalley: I can come on and ruin public education for our listeners on another Skeptical Sunday.
[00:36:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's a light lift, I think, actually. Maybe a lot of material, but you won't have to dig too far to do that.
[00:36:26] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:36:26] Jordan Harbinger: So we should do this, right? I mean, at least in Germany, in the EU, they're headed in the right direction from the sound of it.
[00:36:32] David C. Smalley: It's better there, but they're still corporate greed and there's still misinformation that leads the way even in Europe. And that aspect was really Jeff's passion and the kind of the whole reason behind him reaching to us. So he showed me this bag that's called a biodegradable compostable bag in Germany, which makes it seem like it'll just disintegrate into the earth. But the stamp that certifies it has this logo. And when you look that logo up, it just means that the European specification has been met and that European specification just says that within 12 weeks, you should not be able to see 90 percent of the material, so you can't see it, but the microplastics are still there and are terrible for the environment. So even in their perfect world called Europe where things are labeled, the labels don't always mean what you think they mean. And we just need to educate the public on it.
[00:37:25] He showed me a pasta box made completely from paper or cardboard. He showed me one from like a few weeks before where the entire thing was just the same material. It was like this blue ink cardboard. That's it, completely recyclable with pasta inside, pretty straightforward. And they showed me a new version of the same brand, the exact same thing, but it has this little plastic window inside. So you can see the pasta—
[00:37:47] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:37:47] David C. Smalley: —because you don't know what pasta looks like.
[00:37:50] Jordan Harbinger: Is it elbows or are they spirals? I don't know what that word means.
[00:37:52] David C. Smalley: There's literally pictures on the front, but I want to make sure that box isn't lying to me.
[00:37:58] Jordan Harbinger: God forbids if you get the wrong one.
[00:37:59] David C. Smalley: But that little plastic window, while it helps with marketing or people tend to go with stuff they can see in the package, that little plastic window contaminates the paper.
[00:38:08] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:38:08] David C. Smalley: Now that product is mixed materials and makes that box essentially non-recyclable. He showed me a plastic yogurt cup, and I know everyone has these as well.
[00:38:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:17] David C. Smalley: It's a plastic yogurt cup, right? Well, it's a plastic cup, but the outside label is paper. And then you've got, you know, yogurt left on the inside.
[00:38:25] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. So you got to remove the paper from the plastic and then you got to wash out the cup. Why can't the manufacturers reduce some steps and just use one layer or one type of plastic? Or just like, not even multiple types, just one layer, just print on the freaking container. Come on.
[00:38:39] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So that's Jeff's entire point. So food contamination and like shiny outside packaging are the main reasons most companies don't do it. So let's say you have something like hard cereal. You have hard cereal, it can scrape the inside of a certain type of container and it can wear out over time, or it can destroy the food. The cereal will start to crumble and things like that. So it's easier to print on shiny things like polyester and then the polyethylene lining on the inside is better for the food. So we have this sort of thing where ideally, you want to put stuff in products that are good for the product, but if it doesn't look appealing to the average consumer.
[00:39:16] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:39:16] David C. Smalley: It's not going to look good for numbers, right? So just like Oryza proved with their rice, you can do it right. But it just costs a little more. And he stressed that the Oryza rice was far more expensive. And then he held up a cheaper rice product that was made with his lower-cost packaging and had polyester on the outside, polyethylene on the inside, so effectively non-recyclable, even though it's all plastic. And this can even happen with water bottles where the bottle is recyclable, but the lid isn't.
[00:39:44] Jordan Harbinger: I've seen this. Right, the lids are different colors. It's a solid opaque plastic.
[00:39:48] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:39:48] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to ask about this and I'm like, the bottle's clear, but the lid is not.
[00:39:50] David C. Smalley: Do you think any guys are going to sit around and take lids off of bottles at the recycled plant. He showed me a carton for broth. This one blew my mind. So like broth, you know, you buy vegetable broth or chicken broth or soy milk in these cartons.
[00:40:02] Jordan Harbinger: Of course, you have soy milk.
[00:40:02] David C. Smalley: They have a layer of polyethylene and then ink printed paper and then another layer of polyethylene and then aluminum and then another layer of polyethylene. So depending on the municipality, a carton like that—
[00:40:16] Jordan Harbinger: It's bulletproof.
[00:40:17] David C. Smalley: Probably, but it's going to get rejected in most cases. They might attempt to melt it down and only keep the aluminum or whatever is left. It's really up in the air. And then there's this last piece of this, which is this German symbol called Greenhope or green point. It's just two arrows. It looks kind of like a recycle symbol, but it means that the producer of the product has basically paid a fee to allow it to be collected in these yellow bags in Germany, which sounds good. But it doesn't really say anything about the actual recyclability of the product. So again, some things with that label are misleading.
[00:40:51] Jordan Harbinger: They're going to find a giant hole in the ground with just millions of little yellow bags in it. And it's like, "Yeah, we did something with it. You'll never have to worry about these again."
[00:41:00] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:41:00] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. So as long as the entire product or bag or container is made from the same material, then we should be okay.
[00:41:07] David C. Smalley: Yes, in theory, that's the idea. And in Sweden, they've actually placed a tax on items that are not fully recycled. So in Germany, that Oryza rice is more expensive than the cheaper rice with multiple polymers, but in Sweden, it would be opposite. So they would actually add a tax at the register on that non-recyclable product to make it more expensive so that you're either paying for it. Or, you know, people are encouraged to buy the single polymer.
[00:41:33] Jordan Harbinger: Smart.
[00:41:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:41:34] Jordan Harbinger: What's happening to all the stuff that cannot be recycled? Just straight to the landfill.
[00:41:38] David C. Smalley: The EPA says that Americans generate more than 267 million tons of solid waste every year. In 2017, 94 million tons were recycled, but that's only 35 percent of total trash.
[00:41:50] Jordan Harbinger: That's actually way more than I thought though. I will say that I was expecting a much lower number.
[00:41:56] David C. Smalley: Yeah, fair enough. But Green Matters reports that most of the plastic recycling in the US was previously outsourced to China but the Atlantic reports that China no longer accepts most of our recycling. In fact, according to Yale Environment 360, new regulations in recent years have pretty much stopped the process altogether.
[00:42:14] Jordan Harbinger: I heard this and I guess, look, I understand China just stopped accepting our garbage, which I kind of identify. I'm like, yeah. Why would you continue to do that? Do you need it? No, don't do it. I wouldn't want it either. We obviously don't want it either.
[00:42:28] David C. Smalley: Yeah. It's so sad that they won't take any of our politicians. Oh, yeah, no garbage.
[00:42:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, they will do that.
[00:42:36] David C. Smalley: So they prohibited 24 types of waste from entering the country. Why? Because too much of it was contaminated. They were basically like, "Yeah, you can keep your half-full Mountain Dew bottles and bird sh*t stained copies of the National Inquirer. And also please learn what recycle means."
[00:42:52] Jordan Harbinger: So, I assume this big decision by somebody, we outsourced all the recycling to had massive ripple effects. Like, could we replace that capacity?
[00:43:00] David C. Smalley: Well, we try, I mean, first it caused the price of recyclables to plummet because the demand dropped. If everything's contaminated and nobody wants it, you know, what's the point. So the value did just completely tank. And according to some professional recyclers, the price of recycled plastic started even going down so much that they weren't even recycling anymore for a while because no one wanted them. Like the guy who dated three of your friends. Who cares that he's single again, right? Like what's the point?
[00:43:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:43:27] David C. Smalley: Where's the desire?
[00:43:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Damaged goods.
[00:43:28] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:43:29] Jordan Harbinger: So if China wouldn't take it, then what do we do with it now?
[00:43:32] David C. Smalley: Well, we started to flood any country who would take the waste like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. They have some of the highest rates of waste management in the world. And they often dumped trash and illegal landfills. They burn it in open fires. They make it hard to trace where it came from. So we get to say, "Well, we didn't burn it." Even if we're shipping it to someone else, who's literally burning it. And it goes into the atmosphere or whatever. So as a result, a lot of the waste management companies were just scrambling to export or slash hide their waste.
[00:44:01] And so they do this by hiding contaminated waste inside of larger consignments, and then using creative accounting to make recycling numbers look more attractive. They're basically the Enron of recycling, but with a product that, unfortunately, we can smell.
[00:44:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:44:15] David C. Smalley: But things are getting better. The Malaysian government started to turn back containerships. They reciting public health concerns. Thailand and India have both announced bans on imported foreign waste, but a lot of the way somehow still ends up there. So it's not really stopping, which is why it's so vitally important that we recycle.
[00:44:33] Jordan Harbinger: There's demand for getting rid of stuff in a way that's politically acceptable. So, okay, we have to recycle that is clear. What are some things we can take away from this, like real, real action items to make a difference?
[00:44:45] David C. Smalley: All right. So if you've been glossed over this entire time, here's the point to really sit back and listen. So the first thing, and most importantly, there's something you can do for free that only takes a few seconds and you can do it right now without getting up or even pulling the car over. Just stop believing you can't make a difference. This problem is so massive. You just doing one thing one time helps you think about somebody, you know, who has gone through some sort of tragedy, or it has a medical problem or whatever that a crisis in their life and they create a GoFundMe. If you see somebody GoFundMe and someone's donated 500 bucks to it, you don't want to drop in $5 or $3 or $8. You feel silly doing that, but when you're on the side, that either needs to help, or you're close to somebody who you see needs to help you encourage everybody, "Drop your three bucks in. Drop your five bucks in." Everybody tells somebody.
[00:45:34] It doesn't matter how small. Every little part helps. Well, that is also true for your water bottle. That is also true for your rinsing out your mayo jar. Right? So that's step one. Change your mindset. Step two is to remember that you have power. When you're buying products, look for white bottles. Look for clear bottles. Look for boring-looking products that have no label or white labels with minimal writing or buy aluminum every chance you get. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy needed to make new aluminum cans. And according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, recycling one ton of aluminum is equivalent to not releasing 13 tons of carbon dioxide into the air.
[00:46:19] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:46:20] David C. Smalley: So sticking with aluminum and then being vigilant about recycling, it can go a long way. It's also hard to contaminate aluminum. It washes off quite easily. So when I want to buy beer now, what I'm going to start doing? I think it takes better from glass bottles, right? But I'm going to start buying the cans and then pouring them into chilled glasses at my home to reduce my glass bottle footprint, try to buy cookies or snacks that are all in one bag, as opposed to individually wrapped items. Try supporting products that are mono-polymer laminate, which actually just means one type of plastic or at least plastics that can be recycled together, so it can be reused.
[00:46:54] You won't always know, but doing a little research beforehand can really help. Buy products without the plastic windows in them. Like if you have two options between pastas and one has a solid box and one you can see, buy the one you can't see. Start telling these manufacturers that you want to go with single products made with single types of packaging. When asked for paper or plastic at the grocery store — this may start a fight in the comments — but unless you have your own burlap or cotton reusable bag that you're committed to for more than three years proudly say plastic and then reuse the hell out of those plastic bags. Take them back with you as much as you can, until you wear them out.
[00:47:31] Wash out your plastic bottles, wash out your shampoo, your body wash, your ketchup, mustard, salad dressing. Wash them out and then take the lids off and then put them both in a recycle bin without a bag. And I say to leave the lids off, because in many cases, like we said, the lids are a stronger plastic than the bottle, and they're likely going to have a different melting temperature. So just to be safe, separate them, and then drop them in. If you're in an area that does not do single-stream recycling and you get to separate different types of plastics, there's an easy, cheat sheet on what the numbers mean and those little arrow triangles on plastic products. And we can link that in the show notes.
[00:48:06] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:48:06] David C. Smalley: But the vast majority of us who were in single-stream areas, we just have to recycle the best we can.
[00:48:12] And lastly, I just want to leave you with this. Don't do this for yourself or your neighbor. Do it for our kids. So we've all been on a walk by ourselves. We'd heard a rumbling in the bush, or we hear footsteps behind us, and fear is the first emotion, but we've also been on that same path with our three-year-old, fear is not the first step anymore. When you hear Claus walking behind you or a rumbling in the bush, and you've got a small child with you, your first thought is, I wish you would come out here and think something's going to happen. I will destroy you if you come near this child. So take that approach, right? Take that idea that we're doing it for protection.
[00:48:46] Have the confidence of care as opposed to the laziness of loneliness, because we are not in this alone.
[00:48:52] Jordan Harbinger: David, thank you very much.
[00:48:55] Always love these. This one went a little bit long. Thank you so much for sticking with us. Many of you have great suggestions for these Skeptical Sunday episodes. Please do keep those coming. We find that these are really popular. People love them. We love doing them. Topics suggestions for future episodes can always hit me at jordanatjordanharbinger.com. Give me your thoughts on anything related to the show over there.
[00:49:15] A link to the show notes for the episode can be found at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts are in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram, or you can connect with me right on LinkedIn. You can find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, at davidcsmalley.com, or better yet on his podcast, The David C. Smalley Show. Links to all that in the show notes as well.
[00:49:37] Don't forget, I'm going to be interviewing author Ryan holiday live in person in Los Angeles at the Venice West on June 13th. I'd love to see you there in person. Tickets are available at jordanharbinger.com/tickets. That's jordanharbinger.com/tickets. Again, June 13th at Los Angeles at the Venice West. That's me and Ryan Holiday live onstage. Hope to see you there.
[00:49:58] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions, they're our own, and I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. If you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.