While we're all familiar with the basic concept of recycling, many of us still have unanswered questions about how it works, why it really matters, and the impact an individual can truly make. Here are answers to some of the biggest questions you probably ponder.
1. Why do some countries have so many recycling bins?
In some countries, there are more than five different types of recycling bins. Many people wonder: Why does it matter? The simple answer is that, while lots of material is recyclable, each one generally has a different potential use after you dispose of it. For instance, glass may be reformed into new bottles, while plastic could be turned into anything from a park bench to textiles.
2. Why doesn't the U.S. sorts its recyclables?
Many citizens have disregarded the recycling programs in the United States since there is no sorting and everything goes into one bin, but does that mean recycling programs are less effective in the States? Actually, they're just as effective as everywhere else. The U.S. has just advanced its recycling program to allow for single-stream recycling (i.e., putting everything into one bin), and then advanced technology uses electrical currents, magnets, and lasers to direct recyclables to the right facilities.
3. What happens if I recycle something I shouldn't?
While you should try to recycle as much as possible, if you don't know whether an item is recyclable, don't put it into the recycling bin. It is true that one unrecyclable product inside your bin can mean the entire bag goes to the landfill, as typically, the ability to remove the contamination simply isn't there due to a lack of infrastructure and/or manpower.
4. Doesn't recycling take more energy than it's worth?
Digging a hole to bury our trash (i.e., building a landfill) is certainly not good for the environment. For one, materials we buy can leach toxins into the soil and water table, poisoning our planet along with the water we drink, foods we eat, and air we breathe. Beyond that, when it comes to making materials from recycled products, the energy consumed (even when considering the collection and processing required for recyclables) is half that of virgin material manufacturing.
5. Why can't I recycle my recyclable plastic bags?
Many people are surprised to learn that their curbside recycling bin will not allow them to recycle plastic bags, even though they're clearly marked as recyclable. That's because plastic bags are easily shredded by most sorting machines or get caught in them, wreaking havoc at recycling facilities.
Complex sorting is required to remove materials like these, so they have their own special recycling programs. If you want to recycle your plastic bags from the grocery store or elsewhere, simply return them to the store where just about every business provides a drop-off point with a special recycling pickup.
6. What about aluminum foil and other materials?
Aluminum foil provides much the same complications as plastic bags, and it's products like these that are the source of much confusion for people trying to live in a more sustainable manner. Be sure to inform yourself about the materials you can and can't put into your recycling bin. Just because a material has the recyclable label, it doesn't mean your local facilities have the capacity to accept it.
7. How much does the world recycle overall?
Year over year, every country has been seeing an increasing amount of recycled materials — thanks to both a shift in consumer mindset and manufacturers using more recycled materials. In your local community, you can help encourage recycling by sharing unique methods and educating people about why recycling matters.
Doing Your Part
If you're hoping to do your part and recycle, getting answers to your questions is a great start. Plus, these answers can help you inform others about the importance of recycling. But what if you find yourself asking: What more can I do? If you're looking to make a bigger impact on the world, consider running a crayon donation drive. The Crayon Initiative is dedicated to benefiting children's hospitals by providing critical art supplies free-of-charge. Learn more by clicking here.