In the 1970s, Americans embraced recycling. Curbside residential programs developed across the country, an entire infrastructure was built to process materials, and there was an effort by brands to use recyclable material in products. Today, the passion for recycling is stronger than ever. As a result, society has benefited both environmentally and economically from recycling.
Unfortunately, along the way, confusion and inconsistency have developed along with recycling. Today’s residential recycling is not as efficient or effective as it could be if we all did our part to improve the materials in the blue bins that get recycled.
Here are a few examples of the issues facing residential recycling:
- Inconsistent Recycling Programs: Every community has its own recycling program. The programs vary on everything from what is and is not accepted, how it is collected, and how it is processed. This creates an extreme amount of confusion for people.
- Wish-Cycling: People want to feel like they are doing the right thing and when they are unsure if something is recyclable, they put it in the bin. In the end, if the item is not recyclable, it has to be separated out, and can in some cases contaminate the recyclables.
- Greenwashing: Sustainability sells. Brands want to attract buyers by advertising products, especially packaging, as recyclable, including using labels on the products identifying them as recyclable. They may indeed be recyclable, but not through a residential recycling program. Consumers see the label however, and place them in the bin.
- One-Bin Collection: When curbside recycling first began, in most communities households had to separate paper, cans, and other recyclables from each other before putting them at the curb. As budgets became tight in local communities, many opted to commingle all recyclables together for sorting later. Some communities have even started having residents combine recyclables with trash into one bin. The more sorting that has to be done on the backend means the more likely the recyclables are contaminated and devalued. This is especially true with paper.