17 Recycling Myths Debunked (Your Complete Guide)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Everyone knows that recycling is supposed to help protect the environment and conserve the resources we have here on Earth.

Therefore, most people try to recycle simple things like aluminum cans and glass bottles. However, there are many myths surrounding recycling dos and don’ts that this article will try to debunk.

17 Recycling Myths Debunked


Myth #1: You Can’t Recycle Vinyl Records

The myth that you can’t recycle vinyl records is incorrect. Vinyl records have material that is useful and should be recycled through the process of reuse if possible.

Furthermore, the chemicals that go into creating vinyl records leach into the soil when they get trashed, so it is essential to keep them out of the waste stream.

Instead, you can recycle and reuse them for other purposes.

There are literally millions of vinyl records out there that might be too scratched or just too old for people to play.

However, the vinyl material that created those records is still usable and can be recycled by making crafts, artwork, or everyday items.

Some of the best ways for recycling vinyl records include reusing them and repurposing them, which might look like:

  • Vinyl records used as cup holders and plate holders in your home
  • Cut up vinyl records that get glued or taped into designs for artwork
  • Vinyl records that get nailed or hung up as statement pieces or crafts
  • Sell your old records to someone who wants to listen to them

Although the actual vinyl material from records can’t be broken down and reused in other products, the shape and design of the vinyl records can be.

Myth #2: Old Cookware Shouldn’t Get Reused

The myth that old cookware shouldn’t get reused is false because there are many uses for older cookware.

If your cookware is still in working order, you could donate it or recycle the scrap metal if the cookware is beyond repair.

Although solid metal cookware lasts for many years, there are several reasons why you might be getting rid of your old set of cookware:

  • You might have upgraded to a new set of cookware
  • You may have slightly damaged the lining of your cookware
  • You got a more contemporary set to replace your old look

Some of the best ways to recycle old cookware include:

  • Donating your cookware to a second-hand store or donation programs like Freecycle or The Salvation Army
  • Selling your old cookware on a second-hand website like Craigslist or Offer Up
  • Selling or recycling your cookware at a scrap metal yard

Unfortunately, if your old cookware is covered in a non-stick chemical that is made of polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as the Dupont product Teflon, your options are limited.

Teflon is not recyclable and needs to be removed or reused before the cookware is ready for recycling.

Your only options for non-stick coated cookware are to:

  • Remove the coating and then recycle the cookware for scrap metal
  • Contact the scrap metal company nearest to you and ask if they take non-stick surface cookware

However, there are several methods for removing Teflon from your cookware so that it is ready for recycling, or you could find a local facility that offers the service for you.

Myth #3: All Different Recycled Items Must be Sorted

A common misconception about recycling is that all things you recycle need to get correctly sorted before bringing them to a center or donation place.

Although sorting may be preferred, it is not necessary for your recycling.

Several stages of sorting occur after your recycled products are taken. Then they get collected by the local municipal garbage district to be taken back to their sorting facility.

This is the reason that sorting your recyclables before you send them into the garbage truck is not essential.

Moreover, they have their own sorting process at almost all municipal garbage and recycling facilities. This process has four steps.

  • Trucks with recyclable loads get weighed before they enter the facility.
  • Humans complete a first step presort where all visible and reachable things are sorted out of the garbage and thrown into their proper places.
  • Then the individual recyclable categories are separated.
  • Finally, recyclables in each category get separated by size, width, and even color.

Although it helps speed up the process and makes it more efficient, sorting recyclables by the different types and even out of your garbage is not necessary.

Myth #4: Crumpled Cans and Broken Bottles Can’t be Recycled

The myth that cans cannot be crushed and bottles cannot be broken for recycling is completely false and off-base.

In fact, in many sorting locations and facilities, the bottles tend to get broken quite frequently, and all cans are squished into a large compacted cube for easier transport and efficiency of space.

The only exception to this is if you are using an automated can or bottle collection machine at a local center.

Furthermore, these machines tend to be much more sensitive to crushed or broken bottles and cans.

So, to get the most money back for your recycling, you might want to keep all of your bottles and cans intact if you recycle in this way.

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Many people instinctively crush cans or even break bottles to save room before they bring them into recycling centers or toss them in the blue bin in front of their homes.

Luckily, this is the exact same process that recycling facilities use for space-saving.

Furthermore, the aluminum cans are crushed and cubed into blocks to make transporting them to recycling materials producers more efficient.

Additionally, recycled glass is shattered so that it is more easily heated and made into new glass products.

Myth #5: Materials Can Only be Recycled Once

This myth is not only false, but it is distrustful to the integrity of the recycling movement. Only some plastics can only be recycled once.

However, these are such a small fraction of the overall recyclable material out there that this misconception should be forgotten.

Therefore, materials like glass bottles and aluminum cans can get used over and over again without degradation of the materials.

This does not mean that plastics have no purpose once they are no longer useful in their original form.

Plastics from things like bottles and containers only get recycled once or maybe two times.

After that, they must be downcycled. Usually, plastics are downcycled into fabric materials for clothing.

So, you see, even plastic lives on in recycling and can be recycled more than once, completely debunking this myth.

The following table details how many times certain materials can get recycled and the products that they are most likely recycled into:

Material Number of Times Recycled Products Recycled Into
Plastic  One to two  Plastic bottles, containers, clothing fabric, 
Metals Infinite Cans, bottles, containers, etc.
Glass Infinite Bottles, containers, etc.
Aluminum Infinite Cans, bottles, containers, etc.
Paper Five to seven  Paper sheets, cardboard, non-medical products

Therefore, recycling household products is one of the best ways of conserving natural resources, especially when recycling things like glass and metal.

Furthermore, these materials are used and reused forever, meaning that there would be little need for virgin production of these materials if everyone did it.

Additionally, limited plastic recyclability should also show you the waste inherent in using plastic products.

Myth #6: Recycled Materials Make Cheap Products

This myth comes from the idea that recycling lessens the quality of the materials getting recycled.

Undoubtedly, the reason for this myth is that people assume recycling takes away from the final material.

However, this is entirely untrue. In fact, recycled materials have the same properties as products made from non-recycled materials.

Recycled materials save tons of virgin production of products that tend to be just as sturdy and reliable.

Therefore, recycled products get held to the same standards for use as products that get produced from virgin materials.

The only difference is that recycled materials may have an appearance that is not exactly the same as that of virgin-produced products.

Furthermore, the difference in the appearance of recycled products does not make them any less reliable or cheapen their usefulness.

Additionally, recycled materials must meet minimum standards the same as virgin-created products.

These standards do not deal with how things look, so this is the only real point of difference between recycled materials and non-recycled material products.

Myth #7: Recycling Uses More Energy Than Creating New Materials

This is a popular myth that those against environmentalism like to tout in support of their arguments.

However, this is a myth that gets debunked over and over.

Not only does recycling use less energy than creating new materials, but it also limits greenhouse emissions and toxic waste created during the material production process.

The fact is, that recycling materials takes little energy and actually stimulates the economy.

Creating new materials, however, is a one-and-done process that releases more harmful toxins, carbon emissions, and waste into the world than recycling materials.

This myth though is simply not true. Even plastics that are not very recyclable save some energy when they are recycled.

Furthermore, things like metal and glass save more than half the energy needed to create their products from virgin materials.

Myth #8: Recyclables End Up in The Trash, Anyways

Recyclables ending up in the trash rather than recycling facilities is more of an urban legend than a myth.

The story goes that after you meticulously sort and organize your recyclables and place them on the curb, the garbage man is just going to throw them out with the rest of the trash, anyways.

The reason for this is always a bit unclear, but it has something to do with the fact that the local municipalities can’t make any money from recyclables.

Furthermore, recyclables that are sorted correctly get recycled properly. However, not all recyclables end up getting reused.

This myth is only slightly busted because plastics like CD cases and other hard plastics have a limited recyclable market and usually end up getting tossed in the landfill.

Furthermore, these recycling workers and companies simply do not have the technology to sort and recycle all plastics effectively.

Myth #9: Anything With the Arrow Recycling Symbol is Recyclable

Myth #9: Anything With the Arrow Recycling Symbol is Recyclable

Unfortunately, this myth is not true. Although this symbol is a good indicator that the product you bought is made from recyclable material, it is not always the case.

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More often than not, this symbol is correct that the material could get recycled somewhere.

However, there are some materials, such as plastics, that aren’t worth recycling, so they are rarely recycled.

For all plastics, that number inside of the arrowed triangle is what is known as the resin identification code.

This code is what helps determine which type of plastic the product is made from.

Also, the things listed below contribute to whether your plastics are recyclable or not:

  • Size
  • Color
  • Whether the material is mixed or combined with other materials
  • Even the condition of the material

Finally, some regions just don’t have the infrastructure to sort out all of the recyclables.

So, they will usually only recycle the materials that are worth the most, which are identified using those arrowed symbols.

Myth #10: Only Sorting Machines Sort Recyclables at Recycling Facilities

It seems like the technology of recycling should make it possible for machines to take care of all the sorting of different recyclable materials at large municipal recycling plants.

However, this myth is false because almost all recycling facilities have a stage of processing where human hands sort out the valuable recyclable materials.

Human beings are an important and strategic part of the recycling process since they are much more efficient at collecting the best quality recyclable products and discarding trash.

Also, humans sort much more effectively when there is trash included in the recyclables.

As they can identify and remove trash items before they become a problem for the machines.

Furthermore, humans and sorting machines work best together when sorting our recyclables from the garbage.

Myth #11: Plastic Bags Should Go in Your Recycling Bin

This is a myth that recycling facilities wish would go away as it is completely false.

Plastic bags are the bane of the recycling facilities since they get ripped apart, caught in machines, and stuck to the good recyclables that they are after.

Furthermore, plastic bags are so thin and, in many cases, already made of recycled material that they are no longer recyclable at most municipal recycling plants. These bags only:

  • Get in the way of the sorting of valuable recyclables
  • Break or clog sorting machines
  • Dirty the recyclables that the facilities are really after

Instead of placing plastic bags in your recycling bin, they should get collected and then deposited at your local convenience or grocery store.

Moreover, these stores take the plastic bags and dispose of, reuse, or recycle them for you without getting the recycling facilities and their sorting machines involved.

Myth #12: You Can Recycle Containers with Food in Them

Not only is this myth false, but it is also incredibly disgusting. The food scraps:

  • Mold
  • Smell
  • Can spread disease

Therefore, always rinse out your recyclables, especially your plastics, which are incredibly difficult to recycle in the first place.

Your recyclables don’t have to get dishwasher clean. Simply rinse and shake them, then pour the liquid out.

Additionally, give them one more shake so that most of the moisture is flung out, then reseal with the lid.

Cleaner materials add to the quality of the recycling, which means that the products are more likely to get to the final stage and can actually be reused.

Myth #13: Everything Placed Inside the Blue Recycling Bin Gets Recycled

This is definitely not true, even if all materials placed in the bin were recyclable.

Although the massive blue bin for all recyclable goods, known as single-stream recycling, is very efficient for the consumer, it is troublesome for recycling facilities.

The fact is that many things contaminate the blue bins on a regular basis. Contamination of the blue bins slows down the entire recycling process because of:

  • Garbage
  • Non-recyclables
  • Food scraps

Also, people tend to get lazy with the blue bin and try to throw things in there that they may know are not recyclable, but they toss them in there anyway.

Myth #14: Recycling Should Pay For Itself

In our consumerist society, there is a common misconception that recycling should pay for itself.

This myth gets based on the idea that recycling municipalities should be generating a profit, or at least break even so that they stay in business.

This myth is not true because the true benefit of recycling is renewable resources that are not destroying the planet.

Resources used for consumer goods and containers are finite on our earth. This means that at some point, all of the materials are going to get used up and won’t be available anymore.

Furthermore, recycling lessens the burden of needing continual mining and extraction and processing of new resources.

However, recycling does pay for itself in more than monetary ways.

Since ecological and environmental benefits are so plentiful when it comes to recycling, the recycling centers do not need to break even monetarily.

Myth #15: Big Recycling Centers Take Money Away From Local Trash Sorters

We have all seen the trash sorters who make their living sorting out recyclable goods from the trash.

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Although these members of society are doing excellent service, large recycling centers are not taking money away from them.

However, this myth doesn’t take into account the fact that many trash sorters take their retrieved recyclables to these large recycling centers for better payouts.

Large municipal recycling centers are more efficient at recycling goods and have access to the global recycling market.

Furthermore, these internationally connected recycling and sorting centers pay top dollar for recycled goods, and the trash sorters benefit from them staying in operation.

Myth #16: Products Made of More Than One Material Are Not Recyclable

A common myth out there is that products made of several different materials can not get recycled.

This is not true because things are all recyclable and are all made of different materials like:

  • Juice boxes
  • Milk cartons
  • Toys

Common mixtures of materials that are still recyclable include:

  • Paper and plastic with paint on them
  • Plastic held together with glues
  • Metal that has paint on it

When recycling first started decades ago, these types of products were too complex to get recycled.

Today, however, there are complex solutions for complex products, and all of these items are ok for recycling at a local recycling facility.

One of the most common products that are made of serval different materials is milk cartons.

Today in the United States, more than 60 percent of households have access to recycling facilities with the technology available for sorting and breaking down cartons into different parts.

Then, these different parts or materials are recyclable and get reused in future products.

Myth #17: Recycling is a Scam That Has No Real Benefit to the Planet

This is one of the most destructive and untrue statements about recycling out there.

Not only is this myth completely false, but it also does not take into account the decades of scientific evidence that support the facts about recycling.

Also, the idea that recycling is a scam is a threat to the real progress being made around the globe in terms of environmental protection and conservation.

The Environmental Protection Agency is a government branch that monitors and assesses the environment and all activities that affect it.

Their program cited that recycling is not only good for the environment but also reduces the waste and energy consumption processes for making products by almost one hundred percent.

Aluminum cans, for example, save 95% of the energy needed to create a can from scratch when they are recycled.

That means that the power and fuels used to create a new can are almost all saved when cans are recycled, limiting carbon emissions and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

Some more facts about recycling are listed below, proving that recycling is not a scam and has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment and planet seriously:

Material Energy Savings When Recycled Interesting Factoids
Aluminum 95% of the energy used to make new aluminum gets saved when aluminum is recycled
  • “One aluminum recycled can saves enough energy to power a 60-watt lightbulb for 20 hours, a computer for three hours, or a TV for two hours” 
Plastic  Recycled plastic saves one-third of the energy needed to produce new plastic.
  • Plastic takes almost 400 years to break down in a landfill
  • Five 2-litter plastic soda bottles produce enough fiberfill to make a jet ski jacket. 
Glass New glass takes 30 percent more energy than producing glass from broken bits of recycling. 
  • “One recycled glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100-watt lightbulb for four hours.” 
  • Glass bottles take one million years to break down in landfills. 
Steel Recycled steel and tin save about 65 to 75 percent of the energy needed to produce them from raw materials 
  • Tin cans are 99 percent made of steel.
  • All steel recycling in the US saves about the same as a fifth of all US household energy usage
  • A ton of recycled steel saves the same as 3.6 barrels of oil
Paper Recycled paper saves about 40 percent of the energy needed to produce virgin paper products
  • Saving one ton of paper waste saves  15 to 17 mature trees from being chopped down and used for paper

To learn more, you can also read our posts on the 14 planned obsolescence examples, 29 recycling tips to reduce your carbon footprint, and the six R’s of sustainability.

Conclusion

Many of the myths in the world today about recycling are harmful to the environment. Furthermore, knowledge about how and why recycling gets done is just as important as the act of recycling itself.

If people buy into false information about recycling, they are less likely to trust the recycling process and accelerate the pollution and destruction of our natural resources. Recycling does make a difference, and only with accurate knowledge can it be seen as a positive activity.

Author

  • Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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