Update: January 2021

In November 2020, China officially decided to stop taking American recyclables altogether. And with America lacking the infrastructure to recycle our own waste, it means that even less recyclable materials are actually being processed (estimates put it at approximately 9%). Rather, materials meant for the recycling bin are ending up either in landfills in poor countries in Asia and Africa or in the ocean.

Continue reading below to learn more about the problems facing recycling, particularly when it comes to plastic.


I’ve long had mixed feelings about recycling.

The cons of recycling are rarely discussed. We often don’t think about the carbon emissions and pollution that come from the transportation of the materials halfway across the world as well as the toxic waste from breaking down the recyclables, for example.

And now, NPR has confirmed my apprehensions about recycling. Well, at least for recycling plastic.

In 2019, NPR’s Planet Money podcast did a two-parter on recycling and it turns out the cons of recycling plastic might actually outweigh the pros. (You can listen to the episode here).

Apparently, China, which takes most of our recycled products, is starting to reject our waste more and more. It’s no longer cost-efficient for them to clean and break down our plastic materials. As a result, they often throw away our plastic… in the ocean. Yikes.

On the flip side, throwing away your plastic straight away means your plastic ends up in a landfill. And according to one of their expert interviewees, landfill beats ocean.

Obviously, not everyone agrees. But it’s enough to convince me that recycling plastic just doesn’t pay off.

So, if you decide you want to reduce your plastic use, here are a couple of easy, affordable swaps you can make.

Instead of Plastic Toothbrushes

Plastic toothbrushes take approximately 400 years to decompose.

A better option? Bamboo toothbrushes, which only take up to 10 years to fully break down (just remember to remove any nylon bristles first!)

Instead of Plastic Tampon Applicators

We all know that plastic tampon applicators are pretty much the worst. There are various estimates as to precisely how much waste we produce from tampons but The Ocean Conservancy once collected 27,983 tampon applicators on a beach in a single day. So yeah, it’s a lot.

Luckily, there are tons of other options including applicator-less tampons, menstrual cups, and reusable tampon applicators.

I’m personally biased for Lunette menstrual cups because I had the chance to interview their founder Heli Kurjanen and she was absolutely awesome.

Instead of Plastic Deodorant

Did you know that there are actually some awesome companies that sell deodorant in glass jars? Not only are they super cute, but the glass jars are totally reusable.

My personal favorite is Meow Meow Tweet, which makes a beautiful-smelling grapefruit deodorant cream.

Instead of Plastic Grocery Bags

Ok, so this is an easy one. Pretty much everyone has a billion tote bags laying around their house so there’s pretty much no excuse not to bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or anywhere else you go.

Instead of Plastic Body Wash

It’s time to ditch your plastic body wash in favor of bar soaps. There are plenty of bars that come wrapped in paper or packaged in cardboard instead of plastic.

And yes, bar soap often gets a bad rap for drying out your skin. But luckily there are tons of brands that have totally upped their soap game. I’ve been using dove bar soap (which comes in a cardboard box) for years and my skin has never felt better.


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