Recycling Mythbusters: Contamination in Recycling

February 18th, 2014 | Kyle Reed

By Mythbuster Kyle Reed

Who are the Recycling Mythbusters?

We are Kyle “Reedcycler” Reed, Amanda “Jill of All Trades” Abbott and Rachel “Waste Watcher” Tholl. This term we will be introducing you to some recycling-based myths, and busting them so you don’t have to.

From left to right: Amanda Abbott, Rachel Tholl, and Kyle Reed.

From left to right: Amanda Abbott, Rachel Tholl, and Kyle Reed.

Together we are the Recycling Mythbusters.

We don’t just tell the myths, we put them to rest.

Myth: Items put into the recycling bin aren’t actually recycled, and are instead thrown away.

Let’s start this myth with the knowledge that not everything is recyclable. Some items – known as contaminants – don’t belong in the recycling for numerous reasons. These contaminants can either appear in the form of non-marketable items, such as clamshells; items that simply belong in other recycling sorting systems, like plastic bags; or items that have food contamination, which can leach into other recyclables during transit.

Last week, we talked about how these items were removed from the sorting line. Unfortunately, not all items are able to be removed, due to the breakneck speeds by which the sorting lines move. Some are sorted out in later automated processes, but a portion may make their way through to be recycled. From there, they may completely ruin large portions of the recycled product, if not the entire batch.

This can have major repercussions. First, the market value of the contaminated recycled material is greatly diminished, and almost always ends up in the landfill because of that. Additional costs and damages are also caused due to contaminants. For example, recycling contamination in the city of Phoenix costs more than $1 million annually due to damaged machinery and disposal costs of wasted materials.

There isn’t a lot of leeway when it comes to contaminants that end up being recycled. According to the waste hauling company, Waste Management, even if just one contaminated item breaches through the sorting process, thousands of other items in the bale can be ruined as well, resulting in landfilling.

View OSUs online recycle guide

View OSU's online recycle guide

While recycling facilities continue to update and improve upon their sorting methods, the easiest remedy for this problem is simply to take the time to ensure that no contamination reaches the sorting facility in the first place.

Here, knowing is most of the battle. If you haven’t taken the time to do so, check out OSU’s recycle guide to learn about what is and isn’t recyclable on campus. Then, it’s just a matter of making sure that what you are putting into recycle bins is clean and ready to be recycled.

This post is part of our “Recycling Mythbusters” blog series, where we focus on busting common misconceptions about recycling. Tune in every week to learn more.


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