Why you’re recycling wrong

There is nothing like a hot cup of tea in
the morning. That is, until I’m done, and I have to
decide what to do with my cup. Can I recycle it? Is that a trick question? Yeah this is a great question. I just figure you can recycle anything that’s
cardboard-esque. I can’t recycle this? Knowing what you can and can’t recycle isn’t
easy. The rules depend on where you live, and there
are hundreds of products and materials where the rules aren’t always clear. I hear that that’s not recyclable. I don’t know if that’s like a legend,
an urban legend or something. My roommate and I actually have this discussion
where I’m like I’ll throw paper towels in there and she’s like ‘I don’t think
you can recycle them’ and pick them out. Like, I don’t know, it’s paper. I don’t know, this is so hard! The confusion means things that are actually
garbage still end up in the recycling stream. About 25% of what Americans try to recycle,
can’t actually be recycled. Waste management experts say what’s going
on here is something called “aspirational recycling”: When people are unsure if an item
can be recycled, they recycle it, because it feels like the right thing to do.
And while our intentions are good, this behavior isn’t harmless. Even small amounts of contamination can turn
entire hauls of otherwise recyclable materials into trash — and the problem has been growing. The rate of recycling contamination more than doubled in the last decade. So why is this happening? Well, it is at least in part due to a major
shift in how Americans recycle. Beginning in the 1990s and 2000s, municipalities
implemented “single stream” recycling programs. Paper, metal, plastic and glass no longer
needed to be sorted. They could all live in one bin. Communities quickly adopted the practice and
by 2014, 80% of all curbside recycling programs in the US were single stream. The problem is, there’s evidence that when
we put all our recycling into one bin, we’re more likely to throw trash in there along
with it. Take two neighboring counties in Florida,
for example: Palm Beach County, where residents must pre-sort their recyclables, had a contamination
rate of only 9 percent, while Broward County’s single-stream program had a contamination
rate of 30 percent. Single-stream recycling takes the responsibility
to sort off of the individual, and shifts it to Materials Recovery Facilities, or MRFs,
where trash gets sorted out from recycling by machines, but also by workers, who often
have to remove waste by hand: pizza boxes contaminated with grease, electronics that
aren’t processed at standard recycling facilities, even the likes of Christmas lights, animal
carcasses, and bowling balls. In Portland, workers remove thousands of dirty
diapers every month. In a perfect world, everyone would know how
to recycle correctly, but short of that, there’s something we can all start doing differently
right now: Unless you are absolutely sure, don’t recycle it. In fact, recycling education campaigns encourage
the opposite: when in doubt, the best option may be to throw it out. Most people want to do the right thing, and
sometimes the way to be a good recycler is to throw stuff in the trash. If you like this video and want more like it, we’ve launched a paid membership program on YouTube called the Vox Video Lab. For a monthly fee, subscribers get access to DVD extras, live Q&As with creators, and video recommendations. You can go to vox.com/join and be part of the Video Lab community. See you there!

100 Replies to “Why you’re recycling wrong”

  1. Are you telling me that you only have one big bin for all recycling? In my house I have seven; foodstuffs, plastic, paper, cardboard, metal, glass and coloured glass. They all go to different bins at the local recycling collection place.


  3. When you have to "decide" what to do with your cup you are over analyzing everything.
    What's next? Deciding on how many extra wipes you can get out of your toilet paper by saving it for next time?

    California is making America scared and stupid.

  4. But in apartment buildings near the lift of each floor or stair there is only one large bin where everything goes in.

  5. Recycling is just a bandaid to absolve people from changing their consumption habits.its the Diet Coke of environmental responsibility. Does anyone think of the toxins/energy it takes to recycle that 10th Starbucks cup you used this week?

  6. If there is no spontaneously arising market for a recycled material, the recycling of that material uses more resources than it saves. When recycling of materials actually saves resources, you see private sector entities getting involved because they can monetize the difference between resources used and resources collected. That's why private sector recyclers will always take metals but, typically won't take paper, glass or plastics. When a public sector entity collects recyclables, the odds are quite high that that agency uses more resources than it saves. To that extent, they are not "saving the planet".

  7. Recycling is circling the drain. It cost 3 times as much to recycle, thus using 3 times the resources than it does to burn it which is what many cities are doing now.

  8. As other comments have mentioned, in most of Europe you sort your trash yourself. In Germany, garbage trucks may refuse to pick up any unsorted bins, if you repeatedly get it wrong you can get fined. But companies should still be held responsible. Don't know about America, but here you usually have pictograms printed on the packaging, indicating in which bin it belongs.

  9. That camping is bad. Not only their missing the probability of recycling material , they are taking a job away from the sorting employee. If its going to end in a trash pile anyway, why not just leave it there ? Plus it takes away the motivation of recycling in the first place.

  10. Meanwhile, india and china, most populated countries in the world keep polluting without consequence….but its our fault…..thanos is right

  11. Also wash your recyclables and you can seperate say the white lid and cardboard sleeve of your Starbucks coffee up and place those in the recycling but not the coffee cup. Better yet bring a reusable cup.

  12. I do not care what the government says? If that cup or pizza box is cardboard, I am shredding it and composting. You urbanites may not be able to do that, I understand, but most my paper goes into compost.

  13. Since 2016 China has stopped buying plastic so NOTHING is getting recycled anyways. The recycling companies are blaming it on "contaminates" but they have zero intention of actually recycling anything. It's simply more profitable to throw it out. So we are subsidizing them to throw out everything. It's basically FRAUD.

  14. I must be the only person in the world that sees recycling as a scam. They are making products out of plastic you collected and selling it back to you. Its like if Apple made everyone mine caves for the crystals they use on their phones, to them sell them to you.

  15. I stopped recycling when the garbage company started charging me for recycling. They provided bins to separate trash. Then I found out they separate it all at the transfer station. Its a money making business for them. So I refuse to separate my garbage to make it easier for them while they charge me to make their job easier.

  16. Even if you don't use single stream people don't realise you also have to rinse and clean your food containers otherwise it's also contaminated with food waste and can't be recycled.

  17. I was completely shocked when I saw this was a thing. How people don't know what can be recycled. Here in Sweden, things like this are obvious. Things like paper, dirty packets, diapers and organic waste can obviously not be recycled. In schools, we watch full documentaries about recycling and sorting trash.

  18. Here's a little rule that I like to follow: recycle all paper, glass, plastic, and metal materials ONLY if they're clean. Basically, if there's food or grease or anything left behind, throw it out. And if it's plastic, metal or glass, try and rinse out the materials before recycling them.

  19. 30% of single-stream recycling is contaminated, but the question is does MORE stuff get recycled. If 70% of 1000 tons of waste is recycled vs. 91% of 100 tons, it seems like that should be way better for the environment right? Also, why would you not put a clear concise 30-45s segment into this video outlining how to correctly recycle.

  20. No reciclamos mal, nadie nos enseña a reciclar.

    El problema no es sólo ese, el problema parte desde la matriz donde se deberia reciclar y separar todos los materiales, que en conjunto conforman tres categorías: Orgánico – Inorgánico – Mixto, y dentro de ellas las Contaminantes. Que no se pueda reciclar, porque sea tecnológicamente imposible, no significa que deba terminar en un vertedero hasta el fin de los tiempo. Todos materias no Orgánico debe ser separado y compactado, para sus futuro procesamiento. Es indistinto que hoy no se pueda hacer nada con él, devolverlo a la tierra empeora las cosas.
    En un sentido lógico, si no se puede procesar a futuro no debe ser construido, y en ese caso debería invertirse en investigar las formas de hacerlo, obligando por leyes a que las empresas inviertan las ganancias que sus productos en esa investigación.

    Además es una vergüenza que no haya cadenas de procesamiento que limpien los productos, y que por el mero hecho de estar sucios san rechazados, es una vergüenza y una estupidez. Gastamos millones de litros de agua perfectamente potable en limpiar reciclaje, cuando un tambor podría usar una cantidad exacta de agua para limpiar todo el reciclaje hasta el infinito, filtrando y destilando el agua en casa lavado. Ahorrando tiempo a las personas, y sobre todo, agua.

  21. Recycling only works under a well managed and regulated socialist program. It does not work under a market based capitalist program. China has stopped buying most recycling items from the US due to the Republican trade war. This means today most recycling is going in the trash because corporations can't make money.

    Recycling can be sorted out of trash by robots and machines and "contaminated" stuff can be cleaned, as part of a country wide system, like the post office with mail. But the government must do it. Instead we give endless tax cuts to the rich, when we need to tax the heck out of them and create systemic recycling streams, in country. So if you recycle, you are a dupe, and paying extra to a corporation to pick up your "recycling" trash, which causes more diesel air pollution, Lol. Americans…ignorant, but ego always fully intact! $14 coffee anyone?

  22. Pre-sort is definitely better than single-stream recycle. Human beings need clear and specific instructions when doing chores.
    It's not a piece of art, just tell me exactly what I need to do so I can follow orders. I want to save my energy for things more interesting.

  23. How about when you get a pamphlet guide with your recycling box telling you what you can/can't recycle?

  24. This video would have been complete if you actually explain why common things that we think are recyclable are in fact not! You could at least explain why a disposable plastic coffee cup is not recyclable!

  25. Now none of it matters because nobody is buying America’s recyclables. Say hello to our miserable future.

  26. Yeah well maybe the education system should’ve taught me this instead of some dumb quadratic formula that ain’t helping anybody much less the goddam planet

  27. This level of ignorance by such obviously lefty tree-huggers in our age of environmental paranoia is stunning.

  28. The only "rule" you need to know: If someone is willing to pay you for it, you should recycle it. If you have to pay someone to take it away and recycle it, you're wasting valuable resources in order to feel good about yourself.

  29. Children know more than adults on recycling here in Brazil because of better education. And that's a great thing but there should be are on YT teaching adults how to recycle better.

  30. I have been throwing paper towels in the recycling bin for years. After watching this video, I've done some research and no, they can't be. This is because they are usually made from recycled paper and can't be recycled again as the paper fibers have become too short. The site I looked at did say they can be used in composting though, which might be useful for some people. As I live in central London, I think it's better I just reduce my usage of them all together. When I thought they could be recycled, I didn't worry about my usage – now I do!

  31. Another option is to talk with your community recycling management provider to see how contaminated to recycling stream is. For instance, in a meeting with my provider I learned that my community never comes close to approaching the maximum allowable contamination percentage, so they encouraged us to recycle as much as possible regardless of uncertainty.

  32. Some parents, including mine, just can't be trained lol. Also. In some countries/places, they won't collect recyclables that will not bring in any profit.

  33. American recycling system is literally trash. When I lived in Japan it was stricter, but also way more clear what can be recycled.

  34. I have heard of people putting things in the recycling bin because they feel that it should be recyclable even if it cannot.

  35. I work in recycling its a joke people throw anything in boxs to hide stuff when i unload there cars and i can never get everything out it would take me like 8 to 10 hours to just keep the load clean which i don't have time for

  36. Came across this company who are trying to tackle this problem https://www.linkedin.com/company/recirclerecycling

  37. Recycling in Japan is almost perfect besides the fact that it’s hard work for the person who’s throwing it away.

  38. Who tries to recycle an animal carcass?! WTH do they think it can be made into a new animal? 🤦‍♀️

  39. How can you put everything together? Glass breaks, paper gets wet, then plastic gets contaminated. I only recycle plastic & tin cans. And I recycle plastic bags I use such as vegetable bags,bread bags but these must go in bag recycle dropoffs not regular bin.

  40. I heard most company's don't even use recycled material. The only solution is not to buy there things otherwise we're still not contributing to a cleaner earth.

  41. China and Malaysia are now returning recycling material container to the original senders … The Climate Change Industry is breaking profit records ^.^

  42. my province has a presort rule and provides us with the different bags for different sorting days, and we have a website where we can search what we're not sure of and itll tell us if it can be recycled and where to bring it

  43. What if we used refrigrators as shelves in garage and only used cardbord it hold hot Liguria hold liquid packaging add ally in

  44. Not only shouldn't you single stream, paper, plastic and glass/cans should be separate, but you should have a composting system. People who fell like apple cores, paper towels and even animal carcasses are recyclable are right… in a way. If you have a compost program set up, all of those things – especially the food waste – can go in that bin.
    In my community, garbage and compost are picked up one week and all other products (clean paper in one bag, plastic bags and containers, cans and glass jars) in another bag the next week. A near by community does garbage one week and everything else the next.
    It really is a lot easier when you give people more options, not less.

  45. NO!! There's a vid, Voxy Koala CAT, vids say that things that we put in the recycling bin actually don't get recycled!

  46. And this is exactly why I'm watching this (and other videos) being that I'm in Broward. Very helpful!!


    See current [plastic] recycling for what it is : pinning the consumer (& the natural environment) to take responsibility for irresponsible mass production, while in practice, recycling is costly (in $ & CO2) & unsuccessful*. Hold accountable production of material that cannot safely or easily decompose or be sustainably recycled/ upcycled (costing low (ideally renewable) energy & low $). Treat "single-use" man-made materials (including packaging/ containers/ other plastics) as what they actually are : multi-use material that outlasts human lifetimes ; acknowledge contaminated materials difficult to separate/ recycle. TRANSPARENCY. Demand materials production have transparency, as restaurants "dish" ingredients on the menu, for allergens & choice for sustainability. PRODUCTION. Demand, support, & use sustainable (i.e. decomposable or 100% easily recyclable/ upcyclable) materials.

    *Consider 1) the ~9% that has ever been recycled since the birth of mass plastic production 2) China's National Sword Policy/ SE Asia's ban 3) recycling is destroying valuable environments + taking up real estate 4) many recyclables are incinerated with little details to effects on climate change/ global health.

  48. Single-stream recycling…is not recycling lol. In Portugal, we have a green bin for glass, yellow bin for metal and plastic, blue bin for paper and cardboards, red bin for batteries…

  49. can you recycle something like a chip bag? I'm asking because I always take out the trash & recycles and I find chip bags and all kinds of things that i know you cant recycle.

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