The Truth Behind Recycling... Part 1

The theory behind recycling is so simple. You notice a plastic/cardboard/glass/aluminum container is empty, you see the recycle symbol on the bottom (with a number inside the symbol that you don’t know what it means), and you place the item in your recycle bin feeling like a recycling king!

Yay!!! The world is a better place because this item is being recycled! We are doing our part!

Well, I have some news to share. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Did you know that only 9% of items sent to a recycling facility actually gets recycled? I was shocked when I read this from the National Geographic based on their 2018 research. How could items with the recycle symbol on them end up not being recyclable? After much research, I concluded to these 4 questions:

Does every city have their own recycling rules based on what they can and cannot accept? Yes. Should recyclable items only be recycled when they’re properly cleaned and dried? Yes.

Does the size of the recycle item matter? Yes.

Have companies been putting a recycle symbol on their products for decades giving the impression the item is recyclable when they knew from the beginning the money and resources needed to actually recycle the item into something new would be more expensive then using non-recycled materials? Yes!!!

To provide some brief history, the concept of recycling has been around for centuries, but the curbside pickup service that we are familiar with in the US today has been around since the 1970’s. So I wonder… if recycling has been around for so long, why are we not seeing stronger results? What are the challenges that make the recycle success rate so low? Researching for this answer was not as easy as I expected. However, the facts are simple:

· Not everyone recycles (whether recycling is an option in their city, or whether they simply choose not to)

· If an item is not cleaned out properly it can contaminate other recyclable items

· The process of recycling plastic into something new can be 3x the price of brand new plastic

· After decades of taking our recyclables China is no longer accepting America’s recyclables because of the high contamination rate and low accuracy rate

Wow. As a society we counted on recycling as being a great option this entire time, when in reality it's not making that big of an environmental impact as we were all hoping for. However! I am not giving up and I hope you don’t either!

I took a tour of our local recycle facility to find out some answers, tips and tricks to live by when recycling. Please note, since recycling rules vary by city, I encourage you to check out your local recycling facilities website to see what information they have on how to recycle. Just because it has the recycle symbol, does not mean it is recyclable where you live!

Tips for recycling in Las Vegas: 1. Do not bag your recyclables, just simply add the items straight into the recycle bin 2. Make sure to clean and dry all items before placing in the recycle bin 3. Any item smaller than a credit card will not be picked up by the machine - but, if there’s a larger item of that same recyclable material, see if the smaller item can fit inside the larger item. 4. Plastic bags from the grocery store are not recyclable and often get stuck in the recycling sorting machine. (But these bags can be dropped off at the grocery store bag drop-off bin, or just use your own bags when shopping for groceries!) 5. Since it is so costly to recycle, keep in mind other ways to practice sustainability that have a greater impact. These include refuse, reuse and reduce. Here are some examples: Refuse: Kindly decline items you simply don’t need in your home. The next time you call a restaurant for takeout, ask them to not include the plastic utensils, no need for them if you’re eating at home! Reduce: Can you reduce the amount of plastic bags by keeping reusable grocery bags in your car?

Reuse: If salsa comes in a glass jar or a plastic container, choose the glass jar that you can reuse after for a vase, overnight oats, or to store bulk-bin items.

I still plan on recycling when possible, however, I now realize there are other ways I can practice sustainability that will have a more positive impact to the environment.

From my recycling bin to yours, have a great, green day!


Helpful articles that were used for this blog:


National Geographic:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/#close


The History Channel

https://www.history.com/news/recycling-history-america


NPR: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/20/750864036/u-s-recycling-industry-is-struggling-to-figure-out-a-future-without-china


Republic Services: https://recyclingsimplified.com/recycling-basics/