There’s Probably Trash in Your Recycling Bin. What’s the Big Deal?
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Do you know what should and should not be recycled, or are you a wishful recycler? You may think you know what should go in your recycling bin, but chances are you’re recycling items that don’t belong there. The good news is more people are recycling today than ever before. The bad news is that even though we are recycling more, many of us are not Recycling Right.
There is a popular notion that if you are in doubt about whether something is recyclable, you should just recycle it. In reality, if you’re in doubt, you should just throw that item away. We call this “wishful recycling” because you’re putting items in the recycling bin wishing that they will be recycled. But items won’t just get recycled because they’re in the recycling bin. Instead, workers at recycling centers will spend a significant amount of time sorting recyclables from garbage and throwing out what doesn’t belong. If they don’t do this, machines become clogged or damaged by items which can include things such as hoses, Christmas lights, plastic bags and even furniture, none of which are recyclable.
What else happens when you “wishfully recycle” trash? The value of recyclables drops. The original model for recycling programs was that the revenue from selling recyclables would cover the costs of collecting and sorting the items. But when trash gets mixed in with recyclables, that load of recyclables isn’t nearly as valuable. As a result, recycling programs have to increase the cost of recycling fees so that they can continue to operate.
Most communities started single-stream recycling to make it easier for people to throw all their recyclable plastic, cardboard and paper in one bin. But in this effort to make recycling easier, it also became easier for people to throw their trash into that bin right along with the recyclables.
What’s making this problem especially important now is China’s recent inception of a new policy called “National Sword,” which sets a very low limit for “contaminated” recyclables. China won’t accept recyclables unless the load is nearly 100 percent free of trash, something that is not currently possible with our existing sorting technology.
So instead of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best when you throw something in the recycling bin, what can you do? It’s simple: learn what’s recyclable and what isn’t. Go to the Brown County Resource Recovery website, www.BrownCountyRecycling.org, where you can find information about which materials are accepted in curbside recycling, and what to do with materials that are not.
For example, plastic bags should never be recycled in your curbside recycling because they can cause significant damage to the sorting machines. Many grocery and department stores have plastic bag drop-offs so you can still recycle your plastic bags. Another example is sharps. Needles, lancets and other sharps should absolutely not go in your recycling bin due to the danger of needlesticks from used sharps. Utilize the Brown County Sharps Disposal Program to drop-off used sharps.
Recycling is beneficial for everyone and helps our environment and economy. Recycling aids in saving energy, preventing pollution and conserving our resources. Recycling also creates jobs for our communities. So don’t give up on recycling or just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Just Recycle Right!