Michelle Metzler, Waste Management columnist

Recycling myths: sorting fact from fiction

This is a monthly column by Michelle Metzler, Waste Management’s team leader for public education and outreach.

Even with all the recycling we do, there are still some myths out there that generate confusion. Some myths even create contamination problems at local recycling centers.

Let’s bust those myths. Just as you need to sort your cans, bottles and paper, it is also important to separate recycling myths from recycling facts.

Like this one: If there is a recycling symbol on a product, you can throw it in your curbside recycling cart.

This is a myth. And, yes, we know this is super confusing, so bear with us.

The fact is, manufacturers can put the recycling arrows on packaging and materials even though they are not recyclable in our local recycling program. The symbol may be accurate in that the plastic bag or plastic toy could conceivably be used to make a new product, but that overlooks the real question.

The key question is whether the material is accepted in your local recycling program. How do your figure that out? Simple. You can learn more about your local program at wmnorthwest.com/Snoqualmie.

OK, on to the next myth. A person taking a walk around the neighborhood might notice the number of recycling carts at the curb and think, “Wow, we are already recycling as much as we can.”

Here’s the truth. Even with today’s recycling programs, more than half of the materials we throw away could be recycled. Paper, cardboard and aluminum all still present a great opportunity for more recycling. To find out if you’re recycling all you possibly can, head over to recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

One other misconception is that when your waste is hauled away, there is somebody who goes through the trash and pulls out the recyclables. Much like Bigfoot and unicorns, this person does not exist. The fact is, whatever is in your curbside garbage cart goes straight to the landfill. So to ensure that recyclable materials can be made into new goods, we all need to make sure all recyclable materials go into the recycling cart.

Finally, we arrive at our last recycling fiction: Transporting recyclables so they can be processed into new materials wastes more energy than is saved by recycling.

Not true. The energy saved by recycling materials to create new products offsets the energy used to transport and process those same materials. This is especially true for things like soda and soup cans, cardboard and paper because recycling metal and paper products results in the greatest overall environmental benefits from a lifecycle perspective. Plus, Waste Management trucks run on compressed natural gas (CNG) for cleaner air and a smaller carbon footprint. So yes, we are without a doubt saving energy.

Want to bust more myths? Check out the Myths section at recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

Learn more about lifecycle thinking at sustainability.wm.com.