How useful is recycling… really?

How useful is recycling… really? That’s something many of us wonder. Here’s an answer, along with tips on how to improve the odds that what you recycle will get another life.

In a nutshell, less than you may hope, but more than you may think. 

In NC, processors estimate that about 80% of what is recycled can get at least one more life.  This doesn’t mean that 80% of our junk disappears. It does mean we’re helping to conserve resources, reduce the build up in landfills, and potentially lower greenhouse gas emissions. So on that level, the answer to “how useful is recycling?” could be 80% better than not recycling!

Oh there is definitely room for improvement — some of which we can control by managing what we toss into our bins, and some of which requires government and corporate intervention. 

First, let’s look at what WE can influence!

  • Know your local guidelines. Find out what your town pick up and/or local recycling facilities can process. Recycling is costly, and there are different methods for different materials. That’s why the recycling rules are different from center to center. 
  • Follow preparation instructions. Following directions from your recycling center when it comes to rinsing, washing, bagging items or leaving them in open bins is essential. Yours may be AOK with a rinse, or need full-on cleaning before processing.
  • Don’t drop items in the recycling bin unless you’re 100% sure it’s actually recyclable. Here’s why: if your collection includes something the facility can’t use (e.g., wrong material, contaminated by food), that can spoil the ENTIRE pickup and make it un-recyclable. 
  • Don’t put plastic shopping bags in your regular recycling! If you collect your recycling in those, as many do, you must hang onto those bags and just empty the cans, bottles and etc LOOSE into the recycling bin. Take the bags to a grocery store that collects them (they don’t use them again, they send them to a company that can recycle). 

The rule of thumb I advise: WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT.

Here are a few more tips that I shared recently on my Facebook page (and be sure to follow me on Facebook or Instagram for tips and inspiration!):

First, what to do with Plastic

Next, what to do with Paper & Cardboard:

So how useful IS recycling? 

As we’ve seen, here in North Carolina, there’s lots of good recycling news. Let’s look at what’s driving that success: 

  • Melody Foote, a spokesperson for the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ), reports that in NC there is a high demand for certain plastics that are otherwise deemed low value: PET, HDPE, and PP plastics, as well as plastic bags, films and wraps. 
  • These last items, which a few NC firms use in the manufacture or plastic lumber and outdoor furniture, do need to be turned in to grocery stores (Target, Publix, Walmart, and Wegmans), as they’re not handled by the usual recycling facilities.

Read more about the recycling myths and truths in an Indy Week article posted in April 2023.

What do you do with the stuff that’s still good, but that you no longer need or want?

There are a few other ways to give new life to the stuff you don’t want anymore, of course. Items like furniture, clothing, books, knickknacks, decor, magazines and anything that is still good… just not good for YOU. From yard sales to donation boxes to antique shops, there are options that can help you minimize what goes to the dump. Take a look at this article for more inspiration.

Whether it’s plastic, glass, aluminum (and other metals), or simply the better handling of food waste and hazardous materials, paying closer attention to how we get rid of our waste really does make a difference to our environment, and to the critters we share our planet with (including humans!). So, how useful is recycling? It’s still far better than no recycling! 

SOS by Lisa | Professional Organizer, Home Organizer
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