Meet the best friends revolutionizing recycling

Curated Story
Miranda Wang
This article originally appeared on Ashoka Medium

Throughout high school, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao spent Friday afternoons hanging out with their school’s waste. Alongside a dozen other students in the Vancouver school’s recycling club, they sorted countless juice boxes and soda bottles. They scrubbed the residue off bins. It was, in a word, “disgusting.”

Recycling seemed like the antidote for our plastic waste epidemic. The two friends believed it was “the best thing that we, as stewards of the planet, could do.”

Twelve years later, they remember the moment they discovered the recycling system’s not-so-little dirty secret. The summer after 10th grade, they toured a local waste transfer center on a field trip. Inside the sprawling three-story building sat a monstrous pit that looked the size of a football field. From the control room, a pickup truck dropping off materials on the side of the pit looked like a speck — a barnacle on a barge of waste.

The hard truth: recycling wasn’t working. In fact, hardly any of the junk in the pit—including countless juice boxes and soda cans—would be recycled. The workers would divert what they could, they said, but the rest was off to the landfill. It’s estimated only nine percent of plastic is recycled.

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