Poking Holes in Plastic Recycling Myths 


With so many myths and misconceptions around recycling, odds are you could be doing better for yourself and the environment with a better understanding of what can and can not be recycled through curb pickup. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, just under 30% of single-use plastic bottles and jugs are recycled. While this number is low, it doesn’t mean that these items can’t be recycled. Fact is that many people simply aren’t placing these items in the recycling bin. Rigid plastic containers including water bottles, milk jugs, detergent jugs and yogurt cups all are widely accepted for recycling. 

“With so many misconceptions surrounding recycling, it can be hard for consumers to know what is fact and what is fiction,” said Jeremy Walters, sustainability ambassador at Republic Services, a leader in the environmental services industry. “We want to clear those up.” 

Myth 1 Plastic doesn’t really get recycled 

Fact Plastic bottles, jugs, containers and tubs are widely accepted for recycling in communities nationwide. Also, the demand for recycled plastic is growing. 

Many consumer brands have pledged to use more recycled content in their packaging, so it’s important that consumers put in the effort to make sure their bottles, jugs and other rigid plastic containers make it into their recycling bin. 

Myth 2 Anything plastic can go in your recycling bin 

Fact Not all plastic is created equal, so it’s important to know what to throw where. Generally, rigid plastics such as plastic bottles with necks or handles or containers and tubs are recyclable in your curbside container. Just empty them out, give them a quick rinse, let them dry and throw them in the recycling bin. If your recyclables are not empty, clean and dry before placing them in the recycling bin, residual food or liquid could ruin other more fragile recyclables. 

Myth 3 Plastic grocery bags can be recycled curbside 

Fact Flexible plastics, such as plastic bags, require special handling to be recycled and cannot be placed in your curbside bin. They can wrap and tangle around sorting equipment at recycling facilities, which can cause major delays and/or damage to equipment. Instead, you should return them to the collection bins at your grocery or big-box store. Better yet, forgo the plastic bag and bring your own reusable bag to the store. 

Myth 4 You should bag your recyclables 

Fact You should never bag recyclables. Materials must stay loose so they can be sorted and separated at the recycling center. Remember, plastic bags need special handling to be recycled, and they can wrap around and jam equipment at recycling facilities. While paper bags are recyclable, bagging recyclables in any material bag can disrupt the sorting process. Place items loosely in your recycling bin so your local recycling facility can sort them properly. 

Myth 5 Anything with a recycling symbol is recyclable 

Fact The “chasing arrows” symbol doesn’t mean an item is recyclable. The symbol generally identifies the type of plastic or, in some cases, indicates that an item contains recycled content. To ensure you’re recycling correctly, check your local recycling provider’s guidelines on recycling plastic. 

While we can’t change the state of recycling overnight, every little bit helps. “Recycling helps preserve natural resources, reduces emissions and contributes to a more sustainable world,” said Walters. “By recycling, you can reduce your environmental impact and help to keep valuable materials in the circular economy for the long-term. This is sustainability in action.” 

Small changes can lead to a big impact. Keep these myths in mind this Earth Day and beyond so you can recycle properly and live a more sustainable life. For more recycling tips, visit RecyclingSimplified.com and check out the Polymer Center for more information on plastic circularity.

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