6 Recycling Myths Debunked

By Erica Loop in Thinking Sustainably

In 2018, Americans generated more than 292 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of the piles of paper, pounds of plastics, and mounds of other materials that become MSW, only 69 million tons made its way to recycling bins across the country. This means everyone needs to do their part to increase recycling volume and decrease landfill waste.

If you're not sure what you can recycle, what happens after you put your old water bottles into that big blue bin, or you just want to know more about this eco-friendly practice, here's the scoop on some common recycling myths and the truths behind them.

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Myth 1: Recycling Uses Excessive Energy

The energy used versus energy conserved debate is one of the major myths about recycling. The myth is that the recycling process takes so much energy from start to finish that, in the end, it uses too many natural resources to help the environment.

While recycling does require energy, it also conserves more natural resources compared with the energy required to manufacture new paper, plastic, board, or other material. According to the EPA, recycling as few as 10 plastic bottles can conserve enough energy to power your laptop for 25 or more hours—and that's not all! When Americans recycle one ton of office paper, they save the energy equivalent of 322 gallons of gas. When they recycle one ton of aluminum cans, Americans can conserve over 152 million Btu. This equals 21 barrels of oil or 1,024 gallons of gas.

Myth 2: You Can't Recycle Personal Care Items

You used up every last bit of deodorant. Now you have an empty tube. This means your favorite anti-sweat/anti-smell product needs to go into the trash—right? Wrong!

Even though you can't recycle every personal care product, some of these everyday items are made from recyclable materials. For example, some types of deodorant products come in paper barrel tubes instead of plastic casings. Cosmetics, toothpaste, and other similar items are often available in plastic-free, sustainable, or recyclable packaging, too. If you're not sure how or where to recycle these personal care items, check out the Tom's of Maine program with TerraCycle for an alternate option.

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Myth 3: You Can Recycle All Paper Products

In 2018, Americans recycled 68 percent of their paper, according to the EPA. This includes most types of white and colored office paper, envelopes, newspaper, magazines, and some types of greeting cards, according to the American Forest and Paper Association.

But note that, although the metallic paper your birthday gift was wrapped in may look recyclable, it's not. The same goes for laminated gift wrap, plastic-covered paper or note cards, and soiled paper that's covered in food or other types of debris. Along with these items, your leftover, glue-covered, sequined, and glittered paper crafts, talking greeting cards, and shredded paper aren't recyclable.

Myth 4: You Can Put Everything in the Recycling Bin As-Is

Corrugated cardboard boxes, paper takeout bags, and cereal or dry food boxes can all go into your recycling bin—but not always as is. Before you attempt to recycle any of these items, make sure the outside of the box isn't glossy, laminated, or metallic. Remove everything from the inside of the box. Plastic bags, foil wrap, or food debris can make what you could recycle completely unrecyclable.

Not only should you carefully remove debris or anything else on or in would-be recyclable items, but you should also separate them from the rest of your trash. An empty corrugated pizza box with last week's leftover tacos thrown on top eliminates the ability to recycle the paper board.

Myth 5: It's Okay to Recycle All Plastic Products

The plastic water bottle collection on your bedside table can go into the recycling bin. But what about the empty strawberry container, shampoo bottle, or sandwich bag?

Before you try to recycle plastic products, look for the resin number. You may have noticed a tiny triangle with a number and a few letters embossed on the bottom, side, or other part of your plastics. This number can help you to determine what you can or can't recycle. Those numbered 1 or 2 are commonly recycled. Resin number 3—polyvinyl chloride—is not recyclable. Resins 4, 5, 6, and 7 are sometimes recyclable. You can call or email your local municipal waste authority, environmental services, waste management, or other similar office or agency to get a list of which plastics they will or won't take.

If you're not sure who to call or how to find out more info on your area's recycling rules, you can visit websites such as How2Recycle or Keep America Beautiful and search for your zip code.

Myth 6: All Recycling Rules Are the Same

While there are plenty of constants, every city, town, or municipality has its own recycling rules. These could include anything from how to break down boxes to whether you need to sort plastics, glass, and paper. Before you put your next recycling bin out for the community collector, talk to your municipal waste authority or search a recycling database site.

Now that you know more about some of the most common recycling myths, it's time to help out the planet! Are you looking for more info on eco-ideas? Check out the @tomsofmaine Thinking Sustainably board on Pinterest.

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Why It's Good

Recycling myths can stop you from helping the planet in the best way possible! Before you toss your leftovers in the trash or put the recycling bin out on the curb, learn more about the facts and fictions of this Earth-friendly process.