To Recycle or Not to Recycle? | Omega

Did you know that tossing the wrong stuff in the recycle bin can ruin a whole batch of recycling? With a little information, you can make a better choice.

Have you ever stood in front of the recycling bin wondering if the handful of packaging you're holding can be recycled?

Nearly 70% of our waste can be recycled, but in the United States we only recycle about 34%. Confusion about what is and isn't recyclable is one of the main reasons that number isn't higher. In fact, 65% of people aren't clear which plastics can and cannot be recycled. 

When we’re unsure if something is recyclable or not, especially if we think it should be, we often guess rather than finding out the real answer. This happens so often that Sharon Kneiss, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association, calls the phenomenon aspirational recycling. Putting "might-be" recyclables into the recycling bin can cause considerable disruption to the process once the materials reach recycling facilities.

When materials that are nonrecyclable make their way through a processing facility, they tend to clog, halt, and break aspects of the sorting line, and can even harm workers. For example, the entire sorting process must be completely shut down when too many plastic bags create blockages in the equipment. 

Learn How Recycling Works Where You Live & Work

The best way to make sure what goes in the bin actually gets recycled is to learn how recycling works in your area.

Some materials recovery facilities can process only recycling code numbers 1 and 2, while others can process up to number 7. You may be able to recycle a soda bottle and cap together in the city where you work, but not in the city where you live.

If you aren’t sure about what to do with certain products, give your local recycling center a call. Many local processing centers, such as Beacon’s ReCommunity, where Omega’s recycling goes, offer a wide range of educational materials to become familiar with your region’s recycling rules and recycling in general. If you are ever unsure about what to do with a particular item, Sharon Kneiss recommends, "When in doubt, leave it out." Websites such as Begin with the Bin and Waste Management give descriptions of what can be recycled. 

With a little knowledge, the next time you unwrap a package and stand in front of the recycling bin, you will be equipped to make a mindful decision about where to toss that wrapper.

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Discover More