Recycling is probably the most talked about aspect of the reduce, reuse, and recycle mantra but many experts feel that it should be our last option when it comes to protecting our earth’s resources. In fact, “reduce, reuse, and recycle” is a hierarchy that calls on each of us to reduce what we purchase first, then reuse materials as often as we can and finally, recycle what can’t be reused. Why shouldn’t we rely on recycling? Well, there are many reasons but first and foremost, our world just doesn’t have the infrastructure necessary to handle it. For years, China imported roughly 700,000 tons of waste from the US annually, and 70% of the world’s plastics. But in January 2018, China suddenly stopped accepting nearly 100% of their original number of imports due to rising costs and associated pollution. South Asian countries including Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand took the lead shortly after. Thailand’s imports from the US skyrocketed nearly 7,000% in the following year while Malaysia’s rose several hundred percent. But frustration quickly reached a boiling point. Thailand and Vietnam plan to ban imports of plastic waste by 2021 and 2025 respectively. They often received shipments of recyclables that had not been sorted correctly resulting in products contaminated with waste such as dirty diapers. In response, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia all sent shipments back to their home countries – the US, Europe, and Canada – with a stern warning. President Duerte of the Philippines told Canada: “…your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.” Now the US faces the challenge of how to recycle unwanted plastic – much of it costly or unable to be recycled – and avoid the pollution that currently comes from sending them to landfills and incineration plants. COVID-19 has added to these challenges. Social distancing guidelines have resulted in 70% of recycling centers in some Asian countries to pause operations, and those that are open are at half of their typical operational level. Coupled with oil prices that have taken a nose-dive causing plastics to lose their value, recycling has taken a major hit. We can not, and should not, rely on other countries to do our dirty work, especially when those countries are often underdeveloped and lack the infrastructure critical to meet this incredible challenge. Recycling is a tremendous innovation, but we need to ensure that we, on a governmental level, are developing and funding the infrastructure, personnel, and vision to make it a successful reality. Nations should also work together to address this challenge rather than burden countries that likely play a small role in the creation of waste. On an individual level, we should advocate for those efforts and strive to reduce and reuse more often than we recycle. In the coming blogs, we will share information on how we can reduce and reuse everyday products and lessen the strain on our recycling system. Stay tuned! Christina Dietrich @christinad0889Christina is a Kindergarten teacher who is passionate about teaching young child how to care for the environment and cultivating eco-friendly habits within her own life. Her experiences have allowed her to visit and learn about conservation efforts around the world, at places including Grand Teton NP, the Galapagos in Ecuador, and Las Terrazas in Cuba. She lives with her husband and corgi in Northern Virginia.