The EPA estimates that in 2014 alone, Americans recycled or composted nearly 89 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), resulting in a CO2 reduction equivalent to 38 million fewer vehicles on the road. These impressive numbers show just how far municipal recycling programs have come since their introduction only a few decades ago. However, even with all this progress, there is still significant work to do.
Many people still choose to not recycle at all, while others improperly separate their recyclables. Additionally, many are misinformed about what materials are actually recyclable.
According to research conducted by Keep America Beautiful, America could save more than $7 billion if people properly recycled items instead of throwing them into the general waste stream. Therefore, it is vital that people educate themselves about the recycling process.
Here are a few of the most common recycling mistakes and how to correct them:
Using Plastic Shopping Bags
Plastic has come a long way from the days when it was generally thought to be unsuitable for recycling, but it still has a long way to go before it can be integrated into single-stream and multistream recycling programs. Currently, the majority of recycling centers are not equipped to handle plastic shopping bags. For this reason, many consumers end up throwing them in the trash.
To combat the confusion surrounding the disposal of plastic bags, people should use reusable shopping bags whenever possible. Although it might seem strange at first, most people quickly get into the habit of bringing their reusable bags along whenever they go shopping. For those who do acquire plastic bags, many local stores offer their own plastic bag recycling bins.
Of course, another solution is to reuse the bags. Many pet owners, for example, use them to dispose of dog waste. Although this will not solve the landfill crisis entirely, it is yet another way to get more use out of plastic bags.
Trashing Reusable Items
Concerned citizens who recycle should always be mindful of the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, some people neglect to focus on the reuse aspect of the three Rs. These citizens may tend to recycle everything rather than finding another purpose for it.
However, just because an item is recyclable does not necessarily mean that one should discard it. People can reuse a variety of common items, such as pasta sauce jars, food containers, and wine bottles, in crafts, decorative applications, or even as organization solutions. Local agencies and schools are often in need of craft supplies, so people should check to see if these organizations want these items before putting them in the recycle bin. A quick web search will reveal a variety of websites that provide creative ideas on how to upcycle common household items.
Recycling Soiled Cardboard
The EPA estimates that paper products, like cardboard, make up 27 percent of the country’s municipal waste. Cardboard is also one of the easiest items to recycle, and most types are accepted by municipal recycling programs. However, many people recycle dirty cardboard, which can pollute entire batches at recycling centers, even in small amounts. Many municipal recycling programs therefore specify that any cardboard placed for recycling must be free of contaminants, such as grease or food residue.
The main issue with soiled cardboard and other materials is that these contaminants can make the sorting process more difficult. Stray food and grease inevitably comes into contact with equipment and creates a huge mess. To avoid this, people should remove any soiled sections of cardboard and discard them in the trash. They should then place the clean cardboard in the recycling bin.
Improperly Separating Recyclables
Municipal recycling programs can employ either single-stream or multistream recycling programs, but most people don’t know which kind their city uses. This unfamiliarity with the procedure can create problems during the recycling process, therefore it’s important to understand the difference.
Single-stream recycling allows people to put all their recyclable items into one bin, regardless of what type of material is paper, glass, metal, etc. In contrast, dual-stream or multistream recycling programs require people to separate their recyclable items prior to leaving them on the curbside. Those who don’t understand the difference will often end up separating items that don’t need to be separated or mixing items together that should be separated. To solve this problem, people need to research which recycling method their community uses, and then sort their items accordingly.
These are just a few of the most common recycling mistakes, but they are among the easiest to remedy. Once people become aware of these issues and learn how to correct them, they need to spread the word among the community and educate family members on how to properly reuse or recycle items.