ANSWERS TO THE TOP 5
RECYCLING QUESTIONS THAT I HEAR
1. WHY IS RECYCLING NOT “AS GOOD” AS CUTTING BACK ON SINGLE-USE PRODUCTS?
First, as you may have seen in the New York Times article that came out on May 29th, some of the materials we currently recycle in the US are being diverted to landfills. This is largely due to changes in regulation in China, the largest importer or recycled materials, who recently placed additional restrictions on what they will accept. However, only roughly one third of all recycled materials are processed outside the US so these restrictions impact only a small portion of total recycled material. Waste management companies also recommend continuing to recycle as usual while additional solutions such as increased domestic processing or additional purchasers are sourced.
Second, it’s still takes energy, often generated from fossil fuels, to take recycled materials from municipalities to processing facilities and to run the machinery that transforms the recycled materials to pellets or other materials that can then be used as raw materials for new goods made from recycled materials.
Finally, plastics can only be recycled a finite number of times before they ultimately go to a landfill.
2. HOW MUCH ENERGY DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE PRODUCTS FROM RECYCLED MATERIALS VS RAW?
Some materials are better than others, but on average it takes less than half the energy (~23.3 vs 11.3MBTU per ton according to Jeffrey Morris with Popular Mechanic) to make products from recycled material vs raw, including additional energy costs to transport recycled materials to processing facilities.
A few references for improved energy efficiency from recycled materials vs raw materials include savings of: Aluminum, up to 95%; Newsprint, around 45-50%; Plastic bottles, around 70%; Glass, around 20%.
3. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO RECYCLE “RIGHT?"
Adding contaminated products can cause entire loads of recycled materials to be rejected and sent to a landfill. As you may have heard, China recently passed legislation to reject any materials more than 0.5% contaminated. So, tossing in that greasy pizza box as an "aspirational recycler," can actually be quite damaging.
Legislation in NYC was also passed around two years ago making it "illegal" not to recycle in commercial and residential buildings, with pre-determined fines for each infraction. So, it's important to do everything as correctly as you are able to prevent that!
4. HOW MUCH DO I HAVE TO CLEAN SOMETHING FOR IT TO BE SAFE TO RECYCLE?
The trick to remember is the turnover test for food scraps.
If you turn over your salad bowl or milk carton and things are falling or dripping out, just give your recyclable materials a quick rinse and wipe.
Also avoid recycling used napkins and greasy pizza boxes (or greasy paper items in general) even though the turnover test works, the fibers can't be properly separated once oily.
Other watchouts can be found here from NYT
We also did some tests around the kitchen and found that it took on average of only an extra 9 seconds to recycle properly vs throwing things away!
5. WHAT IS SINGLE STREAM & WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN?
Single stream means that you can combine paper, plastics, metals, and glass all into one recycling bin to be processed. Many commercial buildings in New York are single steam, but not all.
Residential buildings in New York are generally not single stream at this point. This means that you have to separate paper and cardboard from other materials. For a cheat sheet on how to properly separate recyclables in NYC check out this link.
Plastics often have labels 1-7 on them, and with single stream all numbers are generally accepted, but not always so it's important to check before you toss. Numbers 1&2, generally things like water bottles and juice jugs, are the easiest to recycle, especially in the US, while the 3-7, more often things like yogurts and takeaway dishes, are more commonly processed internationally. Natural home has a great, more detailed explanation here if interested in knowing more.
PLEASE REACH OUT IF YOU HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS THAT YOU'D LIKE ADDRESSED
Sources used: New York Times, May 2018; Food Packaging Forum, May 2018; Business Insider, October 2015; Popular Mechanics, November 2008; Jeffrey Morris; New York Department of Sanitation; US EPA