The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75% of waste is recyclable, yet only about 34% of it is recycled. What is standing in the way?

One big factor is recycling contamination. Recycling contamination is when non-recyclables such as food waste, plastic bags, styrofoam and other items become intermingled with recyclable materials. The problem developed alongside the creation of single-stream recycling, which eliminated recycling sorting for curbside programs. Due to a lack of proper education on the recycling processes, 1 in 4 items found in a recycling bin are not recyclable.

Contamination causes multiple problems, and the recycling industry as a whole is taking the hit of rising costs. When recyclables are contaminated above a certain percentage, the entire load is considered unusable and must be discarded. In addition, it slows the process and even damages sorting machines, both of which lead to greater expense.

What can you do to help change the tide?

  1. Educate yourself on appropriate recycling guidelines.
  2. Engage in recycling separation even if your community has a single-stream process.
  3. Make your recyclables clean by removing food and rinsing away food particles.
  4. Get involved in community organizations that promote recycling.
  5. Encourage the adoption of standardized recycling labels to help everyone understand the importance and the process of proper recycling methods.

Do you have additional suggestions for improving the recycling mindset in your community? Share them below!