So, you have the blue bin. It’s that tell-tale sign which indicates your love of the earth and your willingness to help make it better.
And like any conscientious citizen of the planet, you toss everything you’ve heard is recyclable into it. But have you ever wondered just how much of your hard efforts are actually recycled?
Here are 3 interesting facts about recycling you may not know and some suggestions for taking recycling to the next level:
79% of all recycled items end up in landfills:
According to a study by Science Advances in July 2017, 79% of 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics produced end up either in landfills or as part of general litter in the natural environment, 12% had been incinerated, and only 9% had actually been recycled. But how, you might ask, can this be? In a nutshell, only 10% of what you put in the recycling bin is actually fit for recycling. The rest is either mistakenly not recyclable (like some plastics, or plastic grocery bags) or it’s contaminated. Contaminated items are items like plastic water bottles with the caps and/or labels still on.
Recyclable containers which haven’t been adequately rinsed will also end up in the landfill. Plastic bottles and cans with napkins, cigarette butts, or other debris inside them are considered contaminated and unfortunately won’t make it to the recycling stage of its life. Neither will any cardboard with grease or food stains. By taking just a moment to properly rinse the item, you’ll be taking an easy step to ensure your recycling efforts will be followed through.
Single-stream vs. Dual-stream:
Single-stream recycling is a term used to describe recycling at the point of pick-up where one bin is used for all recyclables. This system was originally implemented to encourage more consumers to participate in recycling programs. This is why you see all the positive numbers of how well America is taking to recycling. While it’s true that as a whole we are recycling more, the problem with single-stream recycling is the increased confusion and contaminated items placed into the bin. This ends up with more items going into landfills and less actual recyclables being available for post-consumer products and packaging. This ends up with companies still relying on limited resources to produce your favorite products and packaging. With dual-stream recycling, separate receptacles are used for different recyclables at the point of pickup. For instance, paper, cardboard, plastic, and glass would all have their own bin. This results in better quality of recyclable material, lower levels of contamination, and more of your recyclables actually being recycled.
Recycling is A Commodity:
You know those water bottles and cardboard boxes you’re so thoughtfully put in the blue bin? Some of them end up in the landfills anyway. Here’s why. The big name recycling plants have contracts with manufacturing plants in other countries like China. The plant in the US takes all the butter tubs and shampoo bottles and crushes them into bales for shipping. If the overseas plant doesn’t have any need for that type of plastic, they won’t pay for the bales. Without a buyer, a backup is caused and many of the bales are sent to landfills.
In September of 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection announced an increase in strictness in what recyclables they accept and will be banning certain items altogether. While this seems dismal, there is good news. This is an excellent opportunity for more manufacturing plants to open in the US so we wouldn’t need to export our trash. This could also increase jobs as well. If the US could effectively recycle 75% of waste, we would be able to add 1,500,000 new jobs to our economy.
Here are some other fun facts about recycling:
- Did you know you can power a TV for three hours by recycling a single aluminum can?
- Creating an aluminum can from scratch uses 95% more energy and water than by recycling one.
- You can power a two-person household for a year with the energy saved from recycling one ton of plastic bottles.
- By recycling only five plastic PET bottles, there would be enough fiber to fill a ski jacket or make one square foot of carpet.
- You can save one tree by recycling a three-foot high stack of newspaper.
What can you do?
Remove labels and caps, rinse, reuse if possible. Better yet, get a reusable stainless steel cup and just refill with your favorite beverage. Don’t put any items with grease or food stains in the recycling bins. Be sure to rinse those soda cans too. Also, unless your recycling program specifically instructs you to do so, never bag your recyclables.