For many of us, it is part of a weekly routine. We empty the box, container, carton, or can, rinse it out, drop in the recycling bin, and take the bin out to the road to be picked up by the truck.
What happens to the recycling after it gets to the truck is the stuff of mystery. Some say it goes to the landfill, some say it gets sold to the highest bidder, but what is the truth?
Here are some of the most common myths about recycling, and how we can do our part to make the system work even better.
Myth #1 – Recycling Uses More Energy Than It Saves
This is an old myth and one that keeps coming back year after year. The truth is that depending on the material, recycling uses 50% less energy than making the same materials from new sources — and sometimes it saves a lot more than that.
For instance, recycling an aluminum can takes 95% less energy than making that same can from new aluminum. Steel and tin will save 60 to 74%, and recycling paper saves 60% of the energy used in production. Recycling glass will save 1/3rd of the energy needed to produce that same bottle from scratch.
Myth #2 – You Can Toss Old Electronics Into the Bin
Your smartphone, computer and other electronic equipment are made of plastic, metal and glass, so they should be put in the recycle bin, right? This is incorrect. You should never put your electronics into the recycle bin. This is because most of these products have a lithium-ion battery inside, which could explode or catch on fire if improperly recycled.
Instead of the recycling bin, take your electronics to your second-hand store where they can be repaired and reused, or if they are unrepairable, take them to your local household waste recycling depot, or a place that handles e-waste. They need to be taken apart properly and the materials disposed of. Electronics should be recycled, just not in your regular household bin.
Myth #3 – Materials Can Only Be Recycled Once
This is a myth. Many materials, such as glass and aluminum get broken or melted down by waste management services and can be reused over and over again without having any deterioration. Other materials, such as plastics, are pelletized by the waste management company. These can then be easily shipped and reused to manufacture a number of items.
Myth #4 – I Don’t Need To Separate My Recycling
This is true – to a point. Many waste management systems in Ontario use a single stream system where all recyclables are placed in one bin together to be sorted at the recycling depot. It is estimated that this single-stream system has dramatically increased participation in recycling programs and made it easier and cheaper to collect, but it has made it more expensive to sort.
Myth #5 – I Don’t Need To Separate My Trash
This is a myth. Right now, the city of Toronto has a 26% contamination rate of its recycling – this means that 26% of the materials collected in recycling can’t be recycled and are sent directly to the dump. This is a waste of resources and labour.
It is very important to separate garbage from recycling – and this includes items contaminated with food waste. Just one spoon of peanut butter left in a jar can contaminate a whole load. Putting garbage and other items in the recycling can also be dangerous for workers and can do damage to machines as they sort.
Myth #6 – Products Made From Multiple Materials Can’t Be Recycled
The good news is that recycling technology is getting better and better every year, and now most systems can handle a broader range of items made of different kinds of materials.
This means you may not have to remove all those staples from your piles of paper, or the plastic windows from your bank envelopes, in the future. It is always a good idea to check with your municipality for exactly what materials they can handle, just in case.
Many systems are expanding their recycling capabilities every day. There are even new blue box pilot programs beginning this year to deal with problem materials such as beverage coffee cups that are coated with plastic from places like Tim Hortons.
Myth #7 – Recycling Doesn’t Really Save Natural Resources
Ironically, this myth is a recycled version of Myth #1. Recycling reuses raw materials, meaning those same natural resources don’t have to be harvested or mined. If Waste Management Canada recycles 42 million tons of paper, they will save 714 million trees and 292 million gallons of water. That is a lot of protected forests and streams.
Myth #8 – You Can’t Recycle Biodegradable Plastic
While it is true that you can’t recycle biodegradable plastic in most recycling systems, this doesn’t mean you can stick them in your compost bin at home or trash can and hope for the best. If not handled properly, biodegradable plastics break down into methane gas, which is a much more harmful greenhouse gas than CO2.
Biodegradable plastics need industrial-scale composting to breakdown without causing further damage to the environment.
Myth #9 – Recycling is a Scam – It All Ends Up in The Landfill
You may have heard the urban myth that the garbage collectors are seen dumping recycling into the same bin as the trash. This probably isn’t true. Although there is a shortage of places that are looking to buy low-quality materials such as certain plastics and that some plastic sorted for recycling has ended up at the landfill, most recycling is a sought after commodity.
While it is true that recycling won’t solve all of our environmental problems, it does help. Recycling can even be a source of revenue for many communities – once the material is sorted and baled, it is sold to manufacturers to use to create new products. This money goes into offsetting the costs of the recycling program and provides jobs in the community.
How You Can Do Your Part
So, what can you do? Remember these tips to be a recycling pro:
- Rinse all your recyclables as food waste and particles can contaminate the good recycling and make them unrecyclable.
- Pay attention to the recycling rules in your community and know what can and can’t be recycled. Take all other items to the dump or a proper handling facility.
- Save your electronics, unused paints, household chemicals and other waste for your community waste days, or take them to the dump to be appropriately disposed of.
- Many stores, such as Home Depot and Ikea, will take your old lightbulbs, batteries and paint for recycling.
If you need help dealing with your recycling or waste management in Toronto, give BaleForce Recycling Equipment a call at (416) 235-1900. We’d be happy to put you in touch with one of our specialists to get you the equipment you need.