Basics of Recycling

Over the years, recycling has become quite popular and many households now have a recycling bin of sorts in their homes. Wether it be plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, or glass jars, we have become accustomed to tossing it into the recycling. This is a good habit, however, there are some alarming truths that need to be brought to more peoples' attention. Recycling might not be as rosy and wonderful as we may have thought it was years ago. 

Some materials, like metals and glass, can be melted down and made into to completely new products without losing its purity and quality. The downside to melting these materials is that I takes an immense amount of energy. Interestingly, recycled glass is always used to make any glass products since it requires less energy and temperatures to melt than if these companies were to use only raw materials such as sand, soda ash, or limestone. Although it takes a lot of energy to melt down glass, if these products were to be made from scratch, it would actually take 40% more energy to do so. It also has to be separated into colors before being melted down, which can be quite labor intensive. However, overall, the glass recycling industry has more advantages over disadvantages. So next time you have the option between plastic and glass packaging, choose the glass. If you don’t have use for it around the house once you’re done with it, give it a rinse and toss it into he recycling bin.

When it comes to paper, the story is quite different. This material cannot be recycled endlessly like metal and glass. In-fact, paper has what is referred to as “seven generations”, which means the amount of times it can be recycled before the fibers become too short. The “grade” of the paper is simply determined by the length of the fibers. Each time paper is recycled into new paper, it is shredded down into small pieces and mixed with water and chemicals to help further break it down. This mixture is then pressed through a green that removes any contaminants such as adhesives, and then its sprayed onto a conveyor belt where the water is able to drip through and only the paper fibers are left. On this belt the fibers begin to bond together, forming what we know as paper. Once the paper has be recycled too many times and the fibers are too short, they can still be used by being mixed together with virgin paper fibers. Here are just a few paper items we may encounter and how we can recycle them:

  • Cardboard boxes: online shopping has sky-rocketed due to the pandemic, and most of these orders come in cardboard boxes. These are completely recyclable, just make sure to remove excess amounts of tape and break them down before throwing them into the recycling bin.
  • Printer paper: paper that has ink on it can be recycled. If it is crumpled or torn, it can still be recycled!
  • Shredded paper: if you have a paper shredder for personal documents or anything else, you may have an accumulation of shredded paper. Unfortunately, this is NOT recyclable. The pieces are too small and can jam machinery and contaminate bales with other materials inside like glass or plastic. It can, however, be composted!
  • Rule of thumb! There are many types of paper that we may encounter, but a general rule of thumb is it has any contaminates - like grease on a pizza box or a dirty tissue - they cannot be recycled. Receipts are coated in BPA so they are also not able to be recycled. Check with your local recycling plant, since the things they accept and in what condition can vary.

Lastly, we have plastic. The recycling of this material is quite controversial, and we think you should avoid purchasing any plastic packaged products as much as you can. For one, this material cannot be recycled indefinitely. In fact, plastic can only be broken down and recycled once, at which point it is made into a product that cannot be recycled again like clothing. A misconception about recycling plastic is that all of the plastic items you recycle end up being recycled. Unfortunately, a huge amount of these items end up in the landfill, or worse, in the waterways. Plastic recycling has to be purchased by a facility that is able and willing to recycle it. unfortunately, the country that most of our recyclables were shipped to no refuse to take many of those items. China was a leader in recycling plastic, but since 2018 they have implemented new laws that refuse to take any contaminated plastics. The best thing you can do is reduce the amount of plastic items you purchase so it doesn’t end up going to a landfill eventually. Besides, plastic packaging can leach micro plastics into your food and beverages, so it might be best to avoid it altogether! If you do end up having to recycle a plastic item, check the number inside the little recycle symbol to find out what type of plastic it is, and always clean it out before tossing it into the recycling bin!

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