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5 Recycling Myths Shattered

For those who think recycling “just isn’t worth it,” either because they believe it’s too energy-intensive, costs too much, or causes pollution, here’s a rundown of a few of the most common recycling myths—debunked.

The following is an excerpt from Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: An Easy Household Guide by Nicky Scott. It has been adapted for the Web.

There are a number of arguments that are all too often levied at recycling—for example, that it uses more energy and is more expensive than using raw materials. This is untrue (see below).

Critics of recycling also cite examples like transporting glass hundreds of miles to be melted down. Of course, there are still some undoubtedly unsustainable practices like this, and we need to develop more localized reprocessing facilities, markets, and uses for all the materials that we recycle, but in fact this is just one of several recycling myths.

Statistics are sometimes used to show the economics of recycling in a bad light, but they fail to take into account the hidden costs of, for example, cleaning up the pollution caused by landfills, mining, and transporting the raw materials.

The Myths

  1. “There’s no point in recycling because all the stuff just gets dumped.”

This is a common story in the press. What is often not realized is that just a single Pyrex® dish or piece of china in the glass recycle bin will contaminate the whole load and make it unusable. The vast majority of loads are fine and end up being reprocessed, but unfortunately bad media stories tend to stay in the mind longer than good ones.

Recycling is worthwhile and is getting better all the time as more and more people put out clean, sorted material for recycling, and as the technology to sort mechanically improves.

A visit to a Materials Recycling Facility or ‘MuRF’ is fascinating. MuRFs can sort some of the plastics out mechanically. In some of them you can see completely unsorted materials coming in. Bags are split open and the contents travel along conveyor belts where they are jiggled, tumbled through huge revolving drums, passed under powerful magnets, blown with air knives, and zapped with laser beams. These beams can identify the types of plastic and then jets of air blast the item down the appropriate chute. All these processes can do the major sorting out of materials—the lighter materials from the heavier, the steel from the aluminum, the small from the large, and there is also a certain amount of handpicking as well.

  1. “It costs more to recycle than to make things from new materials.”

This is not true. Many recycled products not only save energy and water but also reduce raw-material usage and the associated energy and pollution caused in the process of obtaining the raw materials. For example, it is far better to be constantly recycling aluminum than wastefully mining out the finite stocks of bauxite and causing unnecessary pollution and wasting energy in the process.

  1. “It costs more to recycle than it does to throw trash away.”

Trash collection costs us all money, but the real cost has been disguised due to subsidized landfill costs. With landfills filling up and closing down and landfill taxes having been introduced in a number of areas, recycling makes more and more financial sense.

  1. “It causes huge amounts of pollution trucking all the recyclable materials around the country.”

It is true that there are relatively few reprocessors for recyclable materials at the present and that mileage costs and associated pollution have to be taken into account. However, as more uses and markets are developed and more local reprocessing takes place, the market price for recycled materials will rise.

  1. “Washing out cans and bottles uses more energy than is saved by recycling them.”

Not if you wash them out at the end of doing the dishes!


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