Throwing everything that seems recyclable into a bin and calling it a day needs to be a thing of the past. While it’s easier to believe you’re doing your part than to research how to recycle items properly, the truth is, no one is at the top of the chain making sure each item gets melted down and repurposed somehow. And no, you aren’t off the hook for buying a case of plastic water bottles just because you toss the empty ones into the recycling bin.
Sure, it’s quite the inconvenient truth to discover most of what you knew about recycling is wrong, but in 2019, we’re moving past shame and onward to doing what we can in order to not make the same mistakes again and again as our landfills rise and sea critter populations fall.
Here are three very common misconceptions about recycling and why it’s so important to understand them:
1. Single-use plastic water bottles can be recycled and kept out of landfills
Well, yes...but they can only be recycled a few times, at most. And then they can’t be recycled anymore. While it’s true that plastic water bottles can technically be recycled, they can only be down-cycled into lower quality, lesser value plastic that cannot always be recycled again.
Since the recycled plastic becomes lower quality, virgin plastic pellets must be added in order to create the new plastic item. So even though you were able to recycle that single-use water bottle, it inevitably will end up in a landfill in some form in the near future.
The only way you can prevent plastic water bottles from winding up in a landfill and polluting our waters is to stop using them.
2. Buying single-use items labeled “biodegradable” is better for the environment.
Many “biodegradable” single-use cutlery and plates aren’t really recyclable or compostable. Yes, a biodegradable plate may break down perhaps more sustainably than, say, a plastic fork, but these so-called greener items require a very high heat, industrial composting facility in order to do so.
You can’t toss them in the average compost bin, and they’ll likely end up in a landfill since they can’t be recycled along with your plastics. What’s worse: if they do end up in a lake, river, or ocean, their effect is just the same as plastic.
3. Recycling means my plastic waste gets reused and repurposed.
In an ideal world, sure. But that’s not always the case, and the truth about where it can end up can pretty horrifying depending where on this planet you live. Aside from winding up in your local landfill, that plastic could potentially end up illegally purchased by overseas merchants, and then dumped and burned in illegal landfills where the toxic fumes and run-off are making innocent people sick. In short, just because it can get recycled, doesn’t mean it always does.
Aside from the not-so-good people of the world doing not-so-great things with our recycled plastics, there are numerous plastic products that cannot be recycled at all. Use this handy little guide and arm yourself with knowledge before you buy your next plastic container.
The purpose of this article is not to scare you into thinking your recycling efforts are all a waste (no pun intended), but instead, use this information to make wiser decisions starting with what products you purchase to how you discard them. Recycling is the way of the future, but it’s important to remember the steps are: reduce, reuse, and recycle. The first step to truly cutting down waste is to reduce our waste, the second is to reuse whatever we can, and the last effort is to recycle what we can no longer repurpose ourselves.