Recycling: We’ve all been told it’s the right thing to do. But the rules are often confusing, which might explain why, according to a 2014 survey, Americans think we’re recycling 75 percent of recyclable trash. In reality, the number is closer to one third, a 2016 EPA report found.
The past year has brought even more concerning news about recycling than usual. Massachusetts’ only glass recycling facility has closed. And, China is now refusing to accept many American waste products that used to get recycled there.
So, what’s going on with recycling?
When China stopped accepting poor-quality recyclables from the United States, it was an effort to strengthen its own domestic recycling infrastructure. But it was also a wake-up call that people need to do a better job at recycling, said Beth Porter, a recycling and sustainability consultant and author of "Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine: Sorting Out the Recycling System."
“We have this disruption happening where we’re trying to find new end markets, new demand for these recycled materials,” Porter told Living Lab Radio.
Porter said she wants to reassure consumers that recycling is still the right thing to do and will make a difference in the long term.
“And [it] can make an even bigger difference when we recycle correctly,” she said.
That means, she said, “Clean, empty and dry.”
It also means not putting things in the blue bin that don’t belong there, like plastic bags, garden hoses, old shoes, and a myriad of other objects. This practice is commonly called "wish-cycling."
“[Wish-cycling] is when, 'Gosh, I don't want to throw this in the landfill. I want to recycle it,'” Porter said.
But wish-cycling causes major headaches, she said.
“One flimsy plastic bag can wrap around the machinery and can cause huge problems for folks trying to sort through the volumes of stuff that they get every day,” Porter said.
It's far better to check out a website like Earth911 to learn about where and how to recycle various objects.
Consumers also have an important role to play at the end of the process by buying recycled products, Porter said.
“That's how we make sure that there is a demand for the products we’re trying to recycle," she said.