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Do recycling programs help reduce waste?

Most people know the three R's - reduce, reuse, recycle - but recycling programs have come under fire recently for being ineffective. During the COVID-19 pandemic, single-use plastic products that were previously on the decline became an essential part of staying safe. But as more people have access to single-stream recycling bins and more things end up in sorting centers, many recyclers encounter problems of contaminated products and an inability to sell the recycled materials to reprocessors. Do recycling programs help reduce waste?


The Plastic Industry Is Growing During COVID. Recycling? Not So Much.

Additional resources to think about

Plastic Has A Big Carbon Footprint - But That Isn't The Whole Story
This story from NPR explores the environmental impact of how plastic is made.

Looks are deceiving in Chinese town that was US e-waste dumping site | REVEAL
Discarded electronics are some of the most difficult items to recycle, and often the most toxic. One former e-waste recycling site in China is looking to clean up the mess.

Is Recycling Worth It Anymore/ The Truth Is Complicated
NPR dives into piles of recycled materials that aren't being reprocessed because of the cost of doing business.

Recycling Basics | Environmental Protection Agency
This guide from the EPA helps consumers figure out what can and can't be recycled.

"If It Can't Be Reduced" | Pete Seeger
Folk singer Pete Seeger strums along to the steps one can take to reduce waste.


Who created this message?

  • What kind of “text” is it?
  • How similar or different is it to others of the same genre?
  • What are the various elements (building blocks) that make up the whole?


What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

  • What do you notice (about the way the message is constructed)? 
  • What’s the emotional appeal?
  • What makes it seem “real?”
  • What's the emotional appeal? Persuasive devices used?

How might different people understand this message differently from me?

  • How many other interpretations could there be?
  • How could we hear about them?
  • How can you explain the different responses?

What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

  • What type of person is the reader/watcher/listener invited to identify with?
  • What ideas or perspectives are left out?
  • How would you find what’s missing?
  • What judgments or statements are made about how we treat other people?


Why is this message being sent?

  • What's being sold in this message? What's being told? 
  • Who is served by or  benefits from the message
    – the public?
    – private interests?
    – individuals?
    – institutions?

5 Key Questions of Media Literacy used with permission from the Center for Media Literacy.
Copyright 2002-2021, Center for Media Literacy,


Do recycling programs help reduce waste?

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