By David Knowles.
There are intricacies to waste sorting that we think we understand but we really really do not. Your local recycling program might not accept all recyclable items and putting things in the recycling bin that cannot be recycled will contaminate the recycling stream. This can be confusing, but after you finish this post you will have information to confidently recycle.
Everyone has a lot going on and the last thing we want to waste any mental effort on is, well, waste. Think of me as your recycling guide, taking you through the daunting landscape of just one more thing you wish you did not have to think about, helping you navigate around recycling myths, and getting you to Oh-This-Is-Actually-Pretty-Easy. In no time, you will be recycling correctly.
Myth: What can be recycled where you live can be recycled everywhere.
“We recycled this back home, so I am sure we can recycle it here” or “I live in Auburn and we recycle this, so it must be ok to recycle it on campus, too” are things I hear a lot.
Recycling programs do not translate from place to place. Just because something is recyclable in general, does not mean it is necessarily recyclable where you are. What is and is not acceptable depends on the physical location of the recycling system you are a part of.
Find out what items your local program accepts for recycling. Check with the university, municipality, or county to determine your recycling options: Auburn University, Auburn, Opelika, Lee County. Make sure you put just those items your program accepts into the recycling bin.
Myth: Separating recycling, or trash from recycling, is not important.
Some recycling programs require different materials to be collected in separate bins (source-separated recycling) other programs may accept materials that are put together in the same bin (single-stream recycling). Generally, source-separated material is less contaminated and higher quality and single-stream material are more contaminated and lower quality.
At Auburn University, we have a source-separated recycling program. There are separate bins for recycling mixed paper and recycling mixed containers (plastic bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans), along with dumpsters for recycling cardboard.
Contamination happens when recycling bins are not used as labeled or trash is mixed in with recyclables. It will cause the entire contents of the recycling bin to have to be disposed of as garbage, undoing everybody’s hard work. Placing the wrong items in the recycling bin makes the materials less desirable, less valuable, more expensive to process, and more difficult to manufacture into new products.
Myth: Recycling is the best waste management option.
The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Reducing consumption and choosing durable, reusable items rather than single-use disposables will have a greater environmental impact.
Tips to help better manage the waste we produce:
- Choose reusable items instead of disposable
- Buy products with minimal packaging
- Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags
- Rent or borrow things you use infrequently
- Recycle paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans
Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into resources. Some of its benefits include conserving natural resources, saving energy, preventing pollution, and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. The act of recycling creates good habits and inspires us to develop new and better ways of managing and eliminating waste.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: auburn.edu/recycling
- Twitter: @AU_Recycles
- Instagram: @au_recycles
- Facebook: auburnuniversityrecycles
Post contributed by David Knowles, Student Employee, Waste Reduction and Recycling Department, Facilities Management.
Learn about the SDGs & AU and our contributions related to this post.