The Growing Problem with Recycling

Almost every item you buy has a recycle symbol on it. The ever-constant reminder to recycle your used items to save the environment and create revenue. Make no mistake, recycling is big business! Yes, it creates jobs. Yes, it helps with conservation of our natural resources. And yes, many recyclable products will end up in the landfill with the best of intentions. Here are a few buzzwords and trends in the recycling industry you should know:

Remember the presorting system at the curbside?

Presorting recyclables into separate color-coded containers

Today it’s a single-stream system.

One single curb-side bin for our recyclingSingle-stream refers to a system in which all the commodities (newspaper, paperboard, corrugated fiberboard, plastic, glass, metals, etc.) are mixed into a single container.

*Recyclables are considered a commodity -- good(s) that can be sold. Those cans, bottles and boxes you recycle can be broken down into raw materials again and sold to manufacturers.

We are throwing everything into the recycle bin because we want to be good stewards of the environment. But are we really doing a good job? Are the containers clean or truly really a recyclable item? They requested more recyclables from us and we replied with enthusiasm! However, the recycling industry has a problem with what we are giving them.

Image of workers sorting recycables. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Workers at the Norcal Waste recycling plant sort through materials. The small pieces mixed in will most likely end up as residual.

Recycling contamination happens when incorrect items are put into the system or when the right items materials are prepared the wrong way (i.e., food residue in containers, recyclables in plastic bags, etc.). This is a growing problem with the recycling industry.

A few of the Dirty Dozen of recycling contaminants:

No recyclables in plastic bags!

Recyclables in plastic bags

No shredded paper!

Shredded paper

No frozen food containers!
Frozen food containers

Learn more about the dirty dozen of recycle bin contaminants. We can do a better job of keeping our recycling system clean and free of contaminants.