There is a lot of news about recycling in the US. We're here to bust some of the myths you've probably heard about!
Recycling is confusing. It can and does change as markets fluctuate. Even within our Valley we have different recycling rules depending on where you live and who is your hauler. Because of that, rumors tend to fly. Read on for some Recycling Mythbusters so you can know before you throw!
There’s a lot of talk about China with regards to recycling these days. For many years China was taking recyclables, mostly plastics, off the hands of countries like United States. The problem was that the recycling we and other countries were sending over was highly contaminated. We were sending over a lot of trash with our recycling. Two years ago, China enacted the National Sword policy and halted this recycling system, saying that since they were not getting clean recycling, they no longer wanted to be the world’s trash can!
This policy did come rather abruptly, and threw a wrench through recycling industries in the United States and other countries. Recycling is all about end markets – there has to be someone buying materials and turning them into something else in order to be “recyclable.” Suddenly there was no longer a market for these recyclables and communities have had to scramble to recover those materials. While there are domestic markets for many recyclables, they aren’t necessarily equipped to handle the increased volumes. This has resulted in way too much supply and not enough demand, and the value of most recyclables has gone way down. Many recyclers around the country have had to stop accepting certain materials because they can no longer make up the cost of processing.
Fortunately, that largely hasn’t happened in our community. We’re still able to recycle most materials. However, keeping our bins free of contamination is more important than ever. In order to keep the domestic markets viable, we have to make sure that we’re recycling right.
I heard the recycling industry is dead!
No! It is true that the recycling industry has had to change and adapt quite a bit due to many factors, China’s policies included. However, the industry is nowhere near dead. And there are positives that have come about because of these changes, most notably, that we have been forced to better manage our own waste. More and more domestic recyclers and manufacturers have come online to creatively recycle our materials. We are fortunate here in Colorado that we have some local end-markets, for example, glass bottles from Eagle County are recycled on the Front Range through a facility called Rocky Mountain Bottle Company, which makes Coors bottles. Additionally, the State’s Department of Health and the Environment administers grants for further end-market development. You can read more about the NextCycle program here.
Unfortunately, developing these end-markets takes time for research, infrastructure development, funding, and production, so we can’t necessarily fill the market gap as quickly as we’d like. But there are creative solutions popping up all the time.
That all being said, the less we have to manage the better. While we can recycle many materials, reducing and reusing as much as possible is always going to be the more sustainable option.
Isn’t it all just going to the landfill??
Absolutely not! In fact, there were 0 reports of recycling being dumped in the landfill in Colorado in 2018.
However, if a recycler receives a batch with too much contamination it does often have to be sent to the landfill. It can be a safety hazard and too labor-intensive to sort through a highly contaminated bin of recycling. Yet another reason to make sure you know what goes in your recycling bin. When in doubt, throw it out, and always check the Waste Wizard if you are unsure.
It’s plastic, so I can recycle it, right??
No! Always look for the chasing arrows symbol with a number in it. If you don’t see that, it is likely not recyclable anywhere. If you do see the symbol, check the Waste Wizard app to see if it’s recyclable where you are.
There are many different types of plastics out there and not all of them can be recycled. Traditional plastics are made of petroleum and different types have different chemical breakdowns. In general, plastics recycling is more of a down-cycling process, so eventually the quality will degrade and it can no longer be turned into something else.
Read more here about which plastics can be recycled and why.