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Five Common Recycling Myths

recycling myths

Not sure what can be recycled? We can help sort it out.

We’ve all done it. We carefully add something to the recycling bin with good intentions, hoping that the item will get recycled and we can absolve ourselves from any worry. Since everything has a recycling symbol on it these days why not try? This guest post from the inspiring nonprofit Sea Hugger has identified five common recycling myths to help you sort through the recycling confusion.

Myth #1:  If you’re not sure, throw it in the recycling bin and the city can sort it out

This is known as “wishcycling.” About 25% of everything thrown into the recycling bin actually cannot be recycled and creates more work for waste management facilities. “Today, about one quarter of everything consumers place in recycling bins ultimately can’t be recycled by the programs that collect them. Such materials waste hauling space and fuel, jam up machinery, contaminate valuable materials, and pose hazards to workers.” We recommend having  a copy of your local recycling guidelines handy, and remember: when in doubt, toss it out.

Myth #2:  All plastic is recyclable

The chasing-arrows symbol can be misleading because it doesn’t actually mean that something is recyclable. The number inside the symbol tells us the type of plastic, most of which is extremely difficult to recycle. Currently any product can display the recycling symbol. We are proud supporters of SB343 in California, which will regulate the use of the recycling symbol and clear up confusion. See the details in the recent New York Times article: California Aims to Ban Recycling Symbols on Things That Aren’t Recyclable.

Myth #3:  All recycling facilities take the same items

Every facility has a different capacity and ability to process recyclable materials, so learning what your local facility accepts is important. Cities and counties have their own regulations for what they’ll accept, so make the effort to reach out to your local waste management service before you toss something in the bin.

Myth #4:  Single-use plastic water bottles are safe for the planet if they get recycled

Single-use plastic bottles can leach toxins and microplastics into the soil, air and waterways, which could also end up in your body. Most plastics can also only be recycled one or two times, in which case they are typically not used for food or items that need to meet certain requirements. Plastic water bottles typically get downcycled into something else, which eventually makes its way to landfill. If purchasing items made from recycled plastic bottles, choose items that can be reused endlessly.

Myth #5:  Recycling uses more energy and natural resources than creating something from new materials

The Environmental Protection Agency says that recycling aluminum cans saves a staggering 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw aluminum. Recycling steel and tin cans saves up to 74% of the energy to make new cans from raw steel or tin. Recycling paper saves about 60% of the energy, and recycling plastic and glass saves about 33% of the energy compared to making those products from new materials. We also use less water when processing recycled products than we do when making them from new materials.

Recycling is advantageous if we educate ourselves on the benefits and recycle items correctly. Of course, the best and easiest solution is to refuse and reuse!


This is guest post from Sea Hugger. Sea Hugger is an inspiring grassroots nonprofit focused on protecting our oceans from the effects of plastic pollution through science-based education and action. Their mission is to educate the public about conservation and the importance of reducing our dependence on single-use plastic. Sources: National Geographic, The Environmental Protection Agency, The Washington Post. The content has been edited to include additional resources.