Column by Rick Tatnall: Recycling is magic | Columnists

By Rick Tatnall

Rcycling consistently and correctly is the fundamental action of a true environmental steward. A person who is unable to appreciate the inherent benefits of recycling, or who is unwilling to take the time to understand and follow its basic rules, will never truly embrace environmental stewardship.

When practiced religiously, recycling and reuse can keep most waste out of a landfill, let alone the gutter. The rules are not complicated and regular recycling does not take much time. Yet for most Americans, recycling is like a foreign language.

The United States has never committed to the importance of responsible recycling, and in 2018 our country’s lack of attention and planning came back to eat at us. For years, China has accepted thousands of American recycling shipping containers every day. China then began to enforce quality standards that America’s lackadaisical recycling efforts were nowhere near meeting, so it stopped accepting American materials.

Ever since America tried to make its recyclables China’s responsibility, our nation has never committed to the infrastructure needed for recycling facilities. China’s refusal has led to a glut of cardboard and paper with no place to go, leading to the collapse of the US recycled cardboard and paper industry.

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This is now significantly affecting the recycling efforts of communities across the country, with some collection programs considering ceasing their services. This crisis tells America there is no time to waste, recognizes the critical importance of recycling, and immediately invests in its future.

First, we must rapidly expand our industrial recycling capacity so that we can save our trees by turning recycled cardboard into new, and save our coasts by turning recycled glass into sand. As we invest in new infrastructure, we must invest in our citizens by promoting a community mindset around the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and restock.

This will be the most difficult task. Americans have become addicted to convenience, resulting in a sea of ​​disposable plastic and increased ambivalence to engage in routine and proper recycling. Fighting addiction means influencing – and probably compelling – the current crop of adults to do their civic and environmental duty. It also means actively intersecting with schools to teach our youth about the restorative power of recycling and its integral relationship to the future of their environment.

As we shift to a community mindset, embracing the future of our planet as a shared responsibility, the incentives will help motivate people to be more focused and engaged in recycling and reuse. This is where the magic connects to recycling.

When you think about it, recycling is a truly magical process. Turning a discarded, crumpled aluminum can into a usable can – again and again and again – is magical, especially for Mother Earth. When it influences people to view recycling as important and useful, the art of magic can reach this audience in a unique and compelling way, providing a powerful motivational tool for young people and adults alike.

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

Recycling is Magic intends to focus its attention on American schools. The concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle and replenish must be ingrained in our youth so that these actions become instinctive as they reach adulthood.

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

Jonas Salk, who developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine, offered us this wise advice in a 1967 speech. “If we want to be good ancestors, we must show future generations how we have faced a times of great change and great crisis,” he said.

Ultimately, recycling is a key part of a sustainable future for our country and the world. It reduces product costs, conserves resources and minimizes the impact and implications of our collective waste footprint.

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

Rick Tatnall is Director 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, go to: