Recycling can sometimes seem more complicated than it’s worth. It should be as simple as just dropping waste into a bin – but, which waste? And which bin?
And does it actually get recycled and help the environment like “they say” it does?
Over the past few decades, curbside recycling programs, infrastructure, and technology have all greatly improved. At the same time, commodity pricing for used materials (such as aluminum, glass, cardboard, and plastic) have also fluctuated and evolved. For these reasons, the “rules” of recycling have changed, and they will continue to change over time – especially from location to location.
But truth be told, it’s not rocket science.
To prove it, I’ve compiled a list of the most common recycling myths, or causes for confusion, and debunked them for you.
Does recycling do more harm than good?
Recycling is hands down, without a doubt, better for the environment than sending waste to landfill. But don’t just take my word for it.
Aside from best practice of not burying our trash in the ground, a recent study looked at the amount of energy it takes to manufacture products from recyclables versus virgin materials, including the energy used for collecting, hauling and processing the recyclables. Turns out, virgin material manufacturing requires nearly double the energy (23.3 million Btu) than recycled material manufacturing (10.4 million Btu), even when you include the 0.9 million Btu for collecting, hauling and processing the recyclables.
Experts have done the math. Recycling is worth it.
What happens when you put everything into one recycling bin?
Back in the day, you might recall having to sort your glass, plastic, paper, and aluminum into different bins for pickup. That’s no longer necessary in many towns and cities across the U.S. Single-stream recycling (SSR) is the result of new technology that sorts recyclables all at one facility, using magnets, electric currents, and even lasers.
Are plastic bags recyclable?
I can understand why this one is confusing, because yes, plastic bags are recyclable – but no, not in most curbside or single-stream recycling (SSR) programs.
Just because an item is “recyclable”, doesn’t mean it’s accepted by your local facility. Be sure to look at the labels on your bins to get some further clarification on what can/can not be accepted.
Because plastic bags are made of a thin plastic film, they get caught in the sorting technology and/or shredding machinery at most recycling facilities. Don’t put them in your regular recycling bin (unless told otherwise by your recycling provider).
Instead, you have two options: 1) opt for BYOB (bring your own bags) and reduce your consumption of single-use plastic bags, or 2) recycle them the proper way by taking them to designated bag recycling kiosks or collection sites. Many grocery stores – including Wegmans, Whole Foods, and even Target – provide plastic bag recycling bins inside their stores.
Can aluminum foil be recycled?
Aluminum foil is similar to the plastic bag conundrum. Technically, because it is aluminum, it is recyclable – but not all recycling facilities will accept it. Check this Recycling Locator to see the requirements in your area.
Two common reasons why facilities won’t accept foil are that it’s either too soiled with food or too thin/soft for their equipment to safely process it. If you can’t recycle foil in your area, consider switching to reusable containers or food covers, or wipe down and reuse your foil instead of tossing it.
Is glass recyclable?
Glass is infinitely recyclable, but (and there’s always a “but”)…it may not be accepted in your curbside recycling or SSR. In recent years, recycling facilities have been turning away glass due to its breakability both in transit and in processing. Broken glass can be costly to collect and sort safely, so check with your local recycling requirements before placing it in your curbside bin. The good news is, glass makes for great reusable containers and many retailers and local deposit sites still collect glass, even if your curbside pickup does not.
Is the United States the leader in recycling?
The U.S. has a fairly low recycling rate in comparison to other countries around the world. Americans only recycle around 34% of their waste. Various reasons for this include lack of recycling education, poor signage, current infrastructure, and lack of individual habits and/or motivation. Some countries such as Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland last reported more than 50% recycling rates, and the E.U. has set a goal to achieve at least a 50% recycling rates in all E.U. nations by 2020. Other countries are reporting recycling rates as high as 98% for select materials, such as aluminum can recycling in Brazil. The U.S. is behind on all counts, but together, we can change that!