As the consequences of plastic pollution increasingly become part of our daily news, more and more consumers are starting to realize the importance of recycling plastic and other waste. However, there are still many myths as to what items are recyclable and how the process of recycling works, reports The Guardian. Furthermore, recycling plants have spoken out about the dangers of recycling items that are in fact non-recyclable and/or harmful to recyclable materials.
Mitch Hedlund, the founder of the not-for-profit organization Recycle Across America, refers to recycling non-recyclable items as “wish-recycling,” in which consumers attempting to become more conscientious about recycling end up placing items in their trash cans that cause harm once they reach the processing plant.
Plastic bags are one item that Hedlund says should not be recycled, warning that they can cause numerous problems at recycling plants, including clogging up sorting equipment, endangering workers, and causing delays.
“Often recycling centers’ multimillion-dollar processing machines have to shut down every half-hour because the plastic bags get jammed into the equipment.”
Hedlund suggests that consumers always check with their local processing plant when in doubt about what items they can recycle. While she states that “any empty plastic bottles with a neck and screw on cap are recyclable,” other items are less assured. In general, plastic bottles marked with the numbers 1 and 2 are safe to recycle across the U.S.
Another issue with recycling that many consumers are unaware of is when an item that appears to be made of recyclable material is actually constructed of various materials, some of which may not be recyclable.
Coffee cups, for example, appear to be made of paper with a plastic top. However, there is often a thin lining of plastic within the paper cup, preventing the cup from being recycled as the materials are not easily separated. While coffee cup lids also appear recyclable, they tend to be made of flimsy material that breaks down into many pieces when being processed, making them unusable to buyers of secondhand plastic.
Kim De Wolff, a professor of environmental philosophy at the University of North Texas, calls attention to another myth of recycling — many consumers believe that recycling is a never-ending closed circuit. However, De Wolff says that “one of the biggest misconceptions about plastic is assuming that it can be recycled into the same kind of object.”
Plastic degrades throughout the recycling process and is normally only recyclable once or twice into lesser-quality products before becoming unusable. After that, the plastic ends up in a landfill.
Experts advise that the best way to reverse the plastic pollution problem is to simply make and use less plastic.