We’ve all been guilty of throwing the occasional food-covered container into the blue bin, simply because of convenience. After all, one container isn’t going to make much of a difference, right?
Wrong. That stained, greasy container makes all the difference.
When a dirty piece of recyclable material makes its way into the blue bin, it contaminates everything else in the bin that could’ve been recycled. The average contamination rate is 25%, or 1 contaminated item out of 4 recyclable items. On a larger scale, The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that even though 75% of waste is considered recyclable, only 34% ever sees the recycling bin.
While it’s principal to wash off contaminants, it’s also key to remember that not all plastic can be recycled. Through observing the bottom of plastic products, we can use resin codes to determine whether or not the specific type of plastic is recyclable.
- Symbol 1 (PETE) and Symbol 2 (HDPE) can be recycled easily.
- Symbol 3 (PVC) is rarely recycled, is usually seen in speed bumps, roadway gutters, or cables.
- Symbol 4 (LDPE) is also rarely recycled and seen in floor tiles and shipping envelopes.
- Symbol 5 (PP) is being increasingly accepted into curbside recycling programs.
- Symbol 6 (PS) is rarely accepted into recycling.
- Symbol 7 (OTHER) represents every other type of plastic and some examples of recyclable materials include acrylic and polycarbonate.
Unless recycling is taken seriously, the United States recycling crisis will only worsen. In 2019, California was forced to shut down over 1,000 recycling plants due to increasing contamination and immobilizing profitability. Manufacturers were then forced to abandon reusing the recycled materials, even as resources continue to be exhausted at alarming rates.
Despite a few lazy individuals taking recycling shortcuts here and there, the public truly cares about the environment. In fact, a 2016 study conducted by Pew Research found that three-quarters of Americans expressed concerned about the environment. In recent years, climate change has become a pressing center in politics, mainly among the Democratic party.
The main issue around recycling comes from growing confusion around the labeling system. As a solution, Mitch Hedlund, the founder of the Recycle Across America campaign, recommended acquiring a standard labelling system for recycling bins.
For the average person, environmental justice doesn’t always mean kicking off nationwide campaigns. Whether signing petitions, donating to organizations, or voting for leaders who actually believe in climate change (cough cough), everything starts with placing the right item in the right bin.
It’s time to take those extra steps to the blue bin.