“Reduce, reuse, and recycle” has become a bit of an anthem for all eco-friendly folks looking to do their part in fighting climate change. It’s catchy, and a convenient alliteration! But the last of these principles comes with plenty of complications and myths. What we understand about recycling is still fairly limited, and although accessible information is out there, we don’t always stumble upon it in our day to day! We’ve gathered a few myths to share with you today surrounding recycling that will hopefully help you become more confident in your home and community!
Myth #1: “Sorting is unnecessary! I can toss all my items in one bin, and it will get sorted out down the line.”
Unfortunately, almost 25% of the items that consumers put in their recycling bins can’t be recycled by the programs that collect them! Things like rubber hoses, wire, low-grade plastics, and food waste may seem like good candidates for recycling, but they are not. We may toss things in our bins with good intentions, figuring that our city can rule out ineligible items on their own, but this leads to a waste of hauling space and fuel and can contaminate valuable materials and jam up machinery (yikes!). Make sure you are up to date on your local recycling guidelines to avoid letting this myth harm our system!
Myth #2: “Products made of more than one type of material can’t be recycled.”
Thank goodness this isn’t true! As recycling has become a more and more expansive program, we’ve been able to make the process so much easier for the everyday household. Gone are the days of separating out the plastic windows from envelopes, or removing staples from documents. Recycling equipment is now often equipped with heating elements that melt away adhesives or with magnets that strip away bits of metal. Many recycling plants are even able to handle “less desirable” plastics like grocery bags or items made of mixed or unknown resins. As we mentioned above, it’s imperative to learn your local guidelines, but the fact that a wider range of products can be recycled than ever before is something to celebrate!
Myth #3: “Single-use plates and utensils labeled ‘biodegradable’ are a sustainable alternative.”
This one is a big bummer, but the term “biodegradable” is unfortunately a misrepresentation! Many if not most of those “biodegradable” plates and utensils sold as sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic aren’t really compostable or recyclable. These bio-plastic products can only break down in a very high heat industrial composting facility, which is not where a majority of our items end up! For most folks with typical recycling programs and backyard compost bins, these products will remain exactly as they are, and will not decompose.
Myth #4: “Recycling is a scam, and doing it doesn’t really help the planet.”
Thank goodness this is not true! According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the benefits of recycling to the planet are clear. Recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60 to 74 percent; recycling paper saves about 60 percent; and recycling plastic and glass saves about one-third of the energy compared to making those products from virgin materials. In fact, the energy saved by recycling one glass bottle will operate a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. (Doesn’t that spark some bright ideas?!)
Additionally, recycling helps reduce litter. This means we can help slow the spread of diseases like bacterial or fungal infections. The recycling industry continues to create new jobs as well—some 1.25 million in the United States alone. The need and excitement for innovation continues to spurn positive outcomes for both the planet and the economy.
We hope busting these myths for you has helped bring to light some of the necessary steps we all should take to make recycling more effective! It's important to be intentional and well informed, but doing so doesn’t have to be a daunting process. Information is power! Check out How2Recycle to find your local guidelines and get rocking and rolling on making your community a more sustainable place to be! #everydroppscounts