Recycling was supposed to help save the planet. It's past time for us to rethink that idea.
Photo by Vivianne Lemay on Unsplash

Those of us who want a sustainable future for our grandkids try really hard to do the right things for our planet. We grew up internalizing the three R's–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—but it appears that one of those Rs has not lived up to its promise.

We all know that plastic and excessive packaging of all kinds are problematic, but most of us don't worry about it too much because most of it can be recycled anyway, right? We cheerfully put our yogurt containers and pizza boxes and egg cartons into our curbside recycling bin, confident that we've done our part for the environment by not throwing them into a landfill.

We imagine our municipalities taking that recycling to some kind of local recycling plant, where our plastic and paper gets transformed into shiny new eco-friendly products. Right?


Wrong. That's not at all what happens, and never has been. Today, much of what we're putting into our recycling bins isn't being recycled at all—even the stuff that theoretically can be. Instead, it's ending up in landfills or polluting our oceans.

RELATED: A dead whale just washed ashore with 88 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach. This needs to stop.

How is that possible, when we've spent so much time and energy convincing Americans to recycle?

Part of the problem is that instead of recycling these things ourselves, we've spent decades shipping tons and tons of our trash across the ocean to be recycled in China and SE Asia. But last year, China announced that would no longer take most of our recyclables, including mixed paper and most plastics. That cuts out most of our household recycling, and without China buying our waste anymore, there's nowhere for it to go.

Since 2018, we've been shipping more of our plastic to other developing nations in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam. But according to Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace, those countries don't have the environmental infrastructure to handle that waste responsibly. Some of that recycling ends up being dumped into the ocean.

Why don't we just recycle our waste ourselves? Compared to the vast amounts of recyclable materials we dispose of, we have very few recycling plants in the U.S.

According to an article by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic, that's partially individual Americans' own fault. We are notoriously terrible at keeping track of what can be recycled and what can't, so we toss all kind of non-recyclable items in the recycling bin to let others (up to now, low-paid workers in China) figure out. We're also bad at keeping recyclables separated and clean the way they have to be in order to be go through the recycling process. Since it's cost prohibitive to hire people to sort and clean recyclables, waste management companies are telling people they either have to pay a lot more for recycling or ditch it altogether.

And because money is money, most people are choosing the latter. And many localities aren't even offering people the choice.

What does all of this mean for the average American who wants to do right by the planet? First, it means we need to focus a whole lot more on reducing and reusing and stop putting all of our eggs into the recycling basket. It means avoiding plastic whenever and wherever we can and not assuming we can just toss it into a blue bin somewhere. It means utilizing reusable water bottles, shopping bags, dishes and silverware, etc. as a matter of habit, not as an afterthought.

We can also make choices with our wallets. Only buy things when absolutely necessary, and try to buy used first. Whenever possible, choose items without packaging, and when packaging seems unnecessary or excessive, question the companies who are using it. Until we pressure the powers that be to stop wrapping everything we use, we're going to continue to pollute our planet. All of that plastic eventually has to go somewhere.

RELATED: If you don't think twice about the plastic strap around a package, here's why you should.

Pretend that paper is a limited commodity. Pretend that plastic is literally destroying our home. Pretend that it's not normal to consume in excess and that very little is actually garbage.

Basically, we need to completely overhaul our approach to waste, from our own kitchens to the corporations that package what we purchase. But at the very least, we need to stop thinking of recycling as a hallmark of sustainability. We face many environmental questions in the 21st century, and it's clear that we aren't going to find the answers in the bottom of the recycling bin.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

An assignment on the Trail of Tears has prompted debate about taking historical perspectives.

Helping young people understand the causes and effects of historical events is a formidable task for any educator. History isn't just "what happened and when." There's also a "why," "how" and "who" in every historical happening, and quality history education helps students explore those questions.

Sometimes, however, that exploration can go off the rails.

Most people would agree that understanding different perspectives is an important part of learning history, but there are more and less problematic ways of helping students gain that understanding. We've seen some of the more problematic methods pop up in school assignments before, from asking students to pick cotton like slaves to listing the pros and cons of slavery.

Now an assignment from a school in Georgia is making the rounds, with people calling out issues with the perspective it asked students to take.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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