Guest column: Recycling mythbusting

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By Ryan Call, Outreach Coordinator, Eco-Cycle

Recycling can be a complicated subject, so there is plenty of room for developing misunderstandings and myths. This week, we are going to set the record straight and bust some recycling myths!

MYTH: “Recycling is a lie. It all just gets thrown in the landfill.”

BUSTED: The recycling industry is a key part of the economy and, as such, was declared an essential industry and service by the Department of Homeland Security during the pandemic. The U.S. recycling market was valued at about $265 billion in 2017 and is predicted to grow to about $377 billion in the next few years. The recycling industry also creates 10 times more jobs than landfilling. Your local recycling guidelines are the best place to check to make sure that what you’re putting in the bin is actually recyclable.

MYTH: “Recycling systems are broken because China stopped taking recyclables.”

BUSTED: China stopped importing recyclables from the United States and other countries in 2018. Some U.S. recycling programs took a major blow because of China’s new policy, but the recycling program in Boulder County sells recycled material to mostly regional and U.S. recycling markets and we’ve been doing so for more than 45 years. We have never been reliant upon China to take our recyclables. Recycling programs across the nation have mostly survived and are now building and strengthening domestic recycling markets.

MYTH: “If you recycle all of your waste, workers and machines will sort the trash out.”

BUSTED: Eco-Cycle operates the Boulder County Recycling Center and uses both machinery and employees to separate and sort all of the materials that enter the recycling facility. However, their job is to separate types of recyclables — aluminum, paper, glass, plastic, etc., not to sort out trash, which can make valuable recyclables worthless. If you have questions about recycling contamination, check out your recycling guidelines. Please only recycle the materials identified in your recycling guidelines.

MYTH: “Recyclable materials are picked out of landfills.”

BUSTED: Sorting recyclables out from the trash does not make financial sense and would be a huge health and safety hazard for employees at a landfill. Sometimes landfills will pull out scrap metal, which is a very valuable recyclable material, but for the most part, what goes to a landfill stays in a landfill.

 MYTH: “If an item has the recycling symbol on it, it means it’s recyclable.”

BUSTED: Not necessarily. The recycling symbol, or the “chasing arrows” triangle, is a largely unregulated symbol, and anyone can slap it on their product without it reflecting actual recyclability. Recycling guidelines change from place to place because recycling infrastructure and recycling markets vary by location. Therefore, products really can’t be universally labeled for recyclability. To learn what is recyclable, check out the Eco-Cycle Zero-Waste Guide at www.ecocycle.org/ecocycleguide

MYTH: “Recycling uses more energy/natural resources than it saves.”

BUSTED: Recycling saves water, energy, resources, money and prevents greenhouse gas emissions. Here are a few examples of the energy savings of using recycled materials compared to raw, virgin materials: Aluminum cans save 95%, tin cans and glass both save 74%, and steel and paper both save 60% of the energy needed to create a new product. Based on EPA data, since 1970 the U.S. has recycled and composted more than 2.3 billion tons of materials, saving an estimated 4.5 billion barrels of oil, which is the equivalent of taking more than 1 billion cars off the road for a year!

Busting these myths and recycling correctly reduces the environmental impact of our waste and strengthens our economy. Recycling is a key part of Zero Waste, so do your part by debunking these common myths!

Eco-Cycle is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit recyclers and Zero Waste organizations in the U.S. Eco-Cycle innovates,  implements and advocates for local and global Zero Waste solutions to foster a more regenerative, equitable and climate resilient future. For more information: www.ecocycle.org