Assumptions & Misconceptions That Can Lead to Recycling Mistakes
It’s easy to hear the word ‘recyclable’ or see a recycling symbol and immediately think that the item can be tossed into your single stream recycling bin at home or work…but, beware! All uses of the word ‘recyclable’ and all recycling symbols are not created equal!
The American Recycling Center often receives items that are not Single Stream recyclable (aka “contaminants”) and we find it is often because of simple misunderstandings and a few common misconceptions.
1. Misuse of the word “Recycle”
Aka: Assuming “recyclable” means Single Stream Recyclable
Have you ever seen a message urging you to “recycle your old clothes”? The word ‘recycle’ in this sentence, is being used in a figurative way- to suggest the old clothes will have a new life. A viewer of this message is misguided into believing that clothing is conventionally recyclable.
However, a more appropriate and accurate word choice for giving your clothing a new life would be to replace the word ‘recycle’ with ‘re-use’ or the phrase, ‘donate to a re-use network’.
Clothing cannot be ‘recycled’ in the same way plastic water bottles can. Textiles (such as clothing, blankets, linens etc.) get tangled on the sorting machinery and cause problems in recycling processing facilities. The next time you see the word ‘recycle’ in regards to clothing or textiles, know that it is likely not meant to imply literally recycling them, but rather donating them to a re-use network.
2. Misinterpretation of the Recycling Symbol
Aka: Assuming all recycling symbols mean “Single Stream” or “Curbside Recyclable”
Sometimes an item bearing a recycling sign is able to be recycled, but only at a specific, specialized facility and NOT with your single stream or curbside recycling.
A GREAT example is plastic bags and films. Though we have mentioned this problem before, these continue to be the #1 contaminant for operators across the country causing extensive damage to facility equipment.
Not to mention, once these bags are mixed with all types of other recyclables, they no longer carry the same value towards becoming new goods.
The recycling symbol sometimes seen on bags (above) simply implies that these items have the ability to be processed and recycled, but that doesn’t mean they can be processed and recycled at a Single Stream recycling facility.
Dropping your used bags and films at a specialty drop off location remains the best form of collection for this temperamental material. It assures that the bags/films will be properly processed at a specialty facility so they can be made into quality products.
3. Misconception that ALL Recycling Facilities are Created Equal
Aka: Assuming that ALL recycling processing facilities can accept the same materials
Different facilities can accept different recyclable materials-and not always all of them! The little number stamped on the bottom of a material means that it CAN be recycled but not in every recycling plant.
For example, our facility, the American Recycling Center, can take all numbers (1-7) but another similar plant in a different state may only be able to accommodate 1-3.
Reasons for this vary, but if you have a question about what your recycling processor can accept, contact your hauler. As for American, see our list of Accepted Recycling Materials
Misinterpretations and assumptions can lead to unintentionally incorrect recycling practices, and downright bad habits.
We hope that armed with this knowledge, you will be better equipped to spot differences and ask questions before blindly tossing materials into the recycling bin.
As always, Thanks for Reading!