Have you made a resolution to live more sustainability and reduce waste in 2021? Products and brands may market their goods and packaging as "green" but in reality, the benefits may not be so clear. Here are some common recycling myths:
- The recycling symbol means the item can be recycled - FALSE The triangle chasing arrow symbol we all associate with recyclability, is actually not regulated. A manufacturer can plop that icon on anything. Sometimes, items will have that symbol followed by tiny print: "only where facilities exist" meaning it is likely a specialty type of material that a regular recycling facility may not be able to handle.
- To-go coffee cups and juice cartons are recyclable - FALSE Typically, these items have a plastic lining (that's what keeps the liquid from soaking through the paper), which makes these products hard to recycle and also not desireable for composting. Additionally, these items often have drink residue (or often still half of a cup of coffee!) in it when it's tossed in the bin, which can contaminate clean and dry recyclable material like office paper and cardboard.
- Biodegradable items will decompose in the landfill - FALSE Biodegradable items break down aerobically (with oxygen), but most landfills are anaerobic (without oxygen) because trash becomes compacted so tightly that items will not fully decompose. Compostable materials such as food scraps should be composted (check with your city; most allow food scraps in the green yard waste cart for composting). Also, "biodegradable" is not the same as "compostable'"! Technically, everything will eventually biodegrade to some extent in hundreds of years; the term "compostable" is regulated, though many compost facilities do not accept certain types of "compostable" plastics. Some people still prefer to purchase compostable products even if they are not going to be composted because they value the fact that the items are not made from fossil-fuels (like regular plastic) but rather plant-based feedstocks.
- Recyclable = Recycled Content; FALSE Recyclable means the item can be processed to make something else. Recycled content refers to the amount of already-recycled material that is in the new product. Look for items made with recycled content to support the recycled materials market and to reduce the amount of virgin material needed to produce the item.
- If you're not sure, it's best to put it in recycling anyway - FALSE Yes, recyclable material is sorted by machines and people at the processinig facility, but it takes energy and resources to pull the contamination out and more greenhouse gases to gather and transport the non-recyclable items to the landfill, where it should have gone directly. If the contamination makes its way into a bale of recyclable material and is then shipped to another state or country, that recipient then has to deal with the non-recyclables, and in some countries those materials may not be handled in the most environmentally-friendly or healthy way for the surrounding communities. Do your best to research and recycle propertly, but when in doubt, throw it out (assuming it's not hazardous or e-waste).
Remember, recycling rules can vary from city to city, depending on what recycling processing facility materials are sent to, and what requirements are in the city's contract with the hauler. Check with your city or your specific garbage & recycling company for detailed guidelines!
Recycling is a great way to get more use out of resources that have already been extracted and manufactured, but recycling is not the solution to our waste problem. You may have heard the phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle" - there's a reason why Reduce and Reuse come before Recycle!