We have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that more people are recycling more today than ever before. The bad news is that the way we recycle is working against our efforts. Many people unknowingly fill their recycling bin with items that are classified as contaminants, like low-grade plastics or pizza boxes.
Recycling contamination has become a global concern as it has a direct impact on the quality of recyclables entering the markets, while also increasing costs and making the whole process unsustainable.
Read on to find out the effects of recycling contamination and the solution to this global problem.
Recycling contamination starts in each of our homes – since it’s a problem we all contribute to, it can also be solved with the proper education and a willingness to change our habits.
If you’re like most people, you try to recycle as many items as possible and feel good about it too! The only problem is that you might be unintentionally mixing non-recyclables in your bin, thus contaminating most of, if not an entire batch.
And we’re not pointing a finger at you, because the truth is that it can be quite tricky to figure out what is recyclable and what isn’t. Packaging has become more complex in time and there are now very different types of plastic used for packaging everyday items. For most of us, these all fit under one category which should be recycled. Unfortunately, objects like grocery bags, zip-top bags, plastic bottle lids, rubber hoses and other common items are non-recyclable, yet they still end up in single-stream containers, contaminating large amounts of waste. Contamination has increased over the years and now sits at a whopping 25%: 1 in 4 items we put in the recycle bin are non-recyclable.
Recycling contaminations presents with many problems that hinder our recycling efforts. The most obvious problem is that materials that could be reused end up into a landfill. A small amount of contaminants can ruin a massive amount of otherwise recyclable items. For example, liquid or food placed in a recycling container will slowly saturate tonnes of cardboard and paper, rendering them useless.
Another problem of recycling contamination is the increase of costs. The more money and time required to separate contaminants, the higher the expenses. As contaminants cannot be completely removed, recyclable byproducts’ quality decreases, reducing their market value. This makes it very hard for waste management companies to make up for the cost of contamination.
While waste management companies have a significant role to play in the sustainability of recycling, the solution is mostly in our hands, quite literally. It starts with each of us doing some research in order to reduce and prevent contamination from now on.
Here are the most common contaminants that find their way to the recycling bin in many households:
The silver lining is that we CAN change things and prevent recycling contamination without too much effort. All we need to do is carefully read the instructions on packaging – they usually specify if the item is recyclable or not. A bit of research also goes a long way.
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