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Commentary: Recycling is magic, and it's a trick we can all master

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Trash and Recycling

Recycling consistently and correctly is the foundational action of a true environmental steward. A person who is not able to appreciate recycling’s inherent benefits, or not willing to take the time to grasp and follow its basic rules, will never truly embrace environmental stewardship.

When practiced religiously, recycling and reuse can eliminate most waste from ever ending up in a landfill, let alone in the gutter. The rules are not complicated, and regular recycling doesn’t take much time. Yet to most Americans, recycling is like a foreign language.

The United States never committed to the importance of responsible recycling and, in 2018, our nation’s lack of care and planning came back to bite us.

For years, China accepted thousands of shipping containers of American recycling every day. China then started enforcing quality standards that America’s lackadaisical recycling efforts did not come close to meeting, so it stopped accepting U.S. materials.

Since America tried to make its recyclables China’s responsibility, our nation never committed to the necessary recycling facility infrastructure. China’s refusal led to let in a glut of cardboard and paper without a place to go, which led to a collapse of the U.S. recycled cardboard and paper industry.

This now is dramatically affecting community recycling efforts across the country, with some curbside programs considering ceasing their services. This crisis is telling America that there is no time to waste, recognizing the critical importance of recycling and immediately investing in its future.

First, we must quickly expand our industrial recycling capacity so we can save our trees by turning recycled paperboard into new, and save our coastlines by turning recycled glass into sand. While we invest in new infrastructure, we need to invest in our citizens by promoting a community mindset wrapped around the four Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, and replenish.

This will be the hardest task. Americans have become addicted to convenience, resulting in a sea of disposable plastic, and a heightened ambivalence to engage in routine and proper recycling. Fighting the addiction means influencing—and probably requiring—the current crop of adults to do their civic and environmental duty.

It also means actively intersecting with schools to teach our youths about the restorative power of recycling, and its integral relationship with their environment’s future.

As we move to a community mindset, embracing our planet’s future as a shared responsibility, incentives will help motivate folks to be more focused and engaged in recycling and reuse. This is where magic gets connected to recycling.

When you think about it, recycling is a truly magical process. Turning a discarded and crumpled aluminum can into a usable can—again and again and again—is magical, especially to Mother Earth.

When influencing people to see recycling as important and purposeful, the art of magic can reach that audience in a unique and compelling manner, providing a powerful motivational tool for youths and adults.

Enter the “Recycling is Magic” initiative, created to foment a recycling revolution in America. Since recycling is a stepping stone to environmental stewardship and enhanced civic engagement, the initiative intends to influence Americans of all ages to consider recycling as an important daily responsibility; and to influence government to actively promote all citizens’ environmental duty to recycle everything they can, and to always follow the basic rules.

“Recycling is Magic” intends to focus its attention on America’s schools. The concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle, and replenish must be ingrained in our youths so these actions become instinctual when they reach adulthood.

Recycling is a way to be a good ancestor. Doing it consistently and correctly is a means for individuals to play an important role in mitigating negative aspects of climate change for future generations.

Jonas Salk, who developed the first safe and effective vaccine for polio, offered us this sage advice in a 1967 speech. “If we want to be good ancestors, we should show future generations how we coped with an age of great change and great crises,” he said.

The bottom line is that recycling is a key component to a sustainable future for our country and the world. It reduces the costs of products, preserves resources, and minimizes the impact and implications of our collective waste footprint.

Just as we all have benefited from efforts and sacrifices of our ancestors, we must pay it forward by embracing and celebrating the magical ability to transform waste materials into reusable products.

Rick Tatnall is manager of Replenish Richmond, a one-man environmental stewardship and community development effort supporting RVA. Contact him at To learn more about the mechanics of the “Recycling is Magic” initiative, visit:

Rick Tatnall is manager of Replenish Richmond, a one-man environmental stewardship and community development effort supporting RVA. Contact him at:

To learn more about the mechanics of the “Recycling is Magic” initiative, visit:


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