You may have heard that you need to scrub out your containers before recycling, or that all recycling is just getting trashed (so why bother?), or that one non-recyclable item will ruin an entire truckload of recycling. But are those rumors true? Read on to find out!
Common Recycling Myths – True or False?
Myth 1: Your recycling doesn’t get recycled.
Truth: While occasionally this does happen, the vast majority of the time your recycling does get recycled. Especially for counties and municipalities in the Midwest, recyclables are sent primarily to domestic markets, so we know where your recycling is going. Our aluminum goes to a company in KY, our cardboard gets made into pizza boxes in MN, our plastic gets made into decking and pipes in the upper Midwest, our glass gets processed in either Fargo or the Twin Cities. The same trucks are often used to collect garbage and recycling, contributing to this common misconception.
Myth 2: Things can only be recycled once, then they’re thrown away anyway so what is the point!
Truth: That is definitely a myth – and even if it were true, something being recycled only once is still saving natural resources. Glass and metal items can be recycled infinitely. That’s right – over and over forever without any reduction in quality. Cardboard can be recycled 15-20 times, office paper possibly up to 7 times, and plastics a couple of times, but is even then often recycled into long lasting items like decking, pipes, carpet, clothing, or furniture.
Myth 3: It takes so much energy to recycle things, it isn’t better for the environment.
Let me put it this way – we have one planet, with a limited amount of resources – it is possible to run out of something if we don’t use it sustainably. Recycling helps us stretch those resources a lot farther by reducing the need to get more virgin materials to make products out of, such as cutting down trees for paper, or mining ore to make cans. It also actually saves a lot of energy – making a can from recycled aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy you would need to make a can from bauxite ore. Yes, recyclables need to be collected, transported and processed, but so do raw materials. Recycling saves us resources and energy in the end. Even better though? Preventing the waste in the first place!
Myth 4: If it has the recycling symbol on it, it goes in my recycling bin.
Not all items with a recycling symbol are accepted in curbside or drop-off recycling programs. Although this is frustrating and confusing, most programs don’t have the capacity or infrastructure to handle every kind of item. Plastic bags and other film plastics with a recycling symbol can be recycled at retail locations such as grocery stores, but they can’t go in your recycling bin at home because they cause problems at recycling facilities, and they get too dirty to recycle. Rigid plastics like storage totes, black plastic, and Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene) are also common non-recyclable items that may be confusing.
Myth 5: You need to wash your recycling, so it just wastes water.
NOT TRUE! I have heard a few stories about people even running things through the dishwasher before recycling them! If containers are soiled with food you can quickly rinse them or even just scrape them out with a spatula, but you really don’t need to actually wash anything. Containers should be empty of food and liquids, paper or cardboard should be dry and relatively clean. If your pizza box is really greasy or has cheese stuck to it, tear off and recycle the top. All of your recycling is collected in trucks, sent through a facility that is not super clean, baled up, stored on a floor, rides around in a semi… you get the picture. The process is not squeaky clean, so your recycling doesn’t need to be either.
Myth 6: I should bag my recyclables to keep them together.
Please don’t! Bags cause all kinds of problems at recycling facilities and create a lot more waste! Workers can’t see what is inside bags, so they are at risk if they open them. Bags get wrapped around equipment and need to get manually cut away from gears, rollers and other equipment. Use reusable totes or cans to collect and transport recycling instead of bags.