Recycling is a newcomer on the scene when it comes to how we handle our trash. And with recycling programs operating very differently depending on where you live, many myths and misconceptions have sprung up about recycling that have found their way into our daily discussions.
So, what are some common recycling myths that you may believe right now?
There’s no need to separate recycling
With the rise of “single stream” recycling starting in the 1990’s, more people than ever started recycling because instead of separating recyclables by type, all recyclable material could go in the iconic “blue bin” and be sorted at the recycling facility.
However, with this rise in ease of use came a lot of confusion. Many non-recyclable materials ended up in bins, and recent research has found that, on average, single-stream recycling costs around $3 more per ton than dual-stream recycling where paper material is separated from plastic material.
So while you may be able to put several types of plastics in one bin, it is important to still pay close attention to what can and cannot be recycled through your municipal recycling program to ensure that you’re not adding contaminating materials to your local recycling collection.
Single-use plastic water bottles are easily recycled over and over again
Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. While single-use plastic water bottles are one of the most common recyclable materials and most recycling facilities are equipped to handle them, there is a limit to how many times they can be recycled. With each cycle, the quality of the plastic downgrades, meaning that old water bottles don’t make new water bottles. Instead, they get turned into lower-quality materials like plastic fibers for clothing or carpets, which typically cannot be recycled again.
All plastics can be recycled
All plastics are not created equal, and this applies to both their usage and their recyclability. Clear or white plastics with average to above-average durability are the easiest products to recycle because they hold up better to the recycling process and can be used for a wider variety of applications. Flimsier plastics often cannot be recycled at all due to their lack of durability while plastics that are dark or brightly colored have far less value as recycled materials and are often discarded instead of reused.
Products made from recycled materials are lower-quality than new products
Now, while we mentioned earlier that many plastics down-grade during the recycling process, we were talking about their recyclability but not the quality of the products they create. Numerous studies have shown that modern products made from recycled plastics perform just as well as their new-material counterparts.
Most recycling just ends up in the trash
While an alarming amount of plastic that we assume is being recycled is ending up in landfills instead, a large amount of recyclable material does truly get recycled. Glass and high-quality hard plastics are extremely recyclable and millions of tons of these materials do get recycled. However, our goal as a society should be to ensure that 100% of plastic that is produced can be recycled to ensure that our planet and oceans do not pay the steep price of un-recycled plastic continuing to accumulate.
RIO is dedicated to helping local governments improve their recycling programs and find new ways to reduce plastics ever making it into our oceans. Find out more about RIO’s cleanup efforts and other missions for a plastic-free world here.