An estimated 75% of the waste stream in the U.S. could be diverted from landfills and recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet less than 30% is.
The slogan "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is believed to have been born around the same time Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976. Since then, the battle cry has been used to promote conserving natural resources.
Reducing waste—whether by buying less or reusing existing items, is the single most effective way to limit what ends up in landfills. Diverting materials from the waste stream is also effective, whether by composting materials so that they break down naturally or by recycling common household items including paper, cardboard, mail, cans, glass, and plastic.
Recycling is more complex than sorting materials into the appropriate bins, however. The Rounds outlined five major mistakes many people make when trying to recycle.
One common mistake is placing items in the wrong bin, as in the case of non-recyclable materials being mixed in with recyclables. Another is not properly cleaning containers such as peanut butter jars and takeout containers that still have food in them—these can't be recycled if they still contain residue.
Compounding the issue are recycling supply chain issues caused by various materials bans in China, which used to process nearly half of the world's recycling. Over the last four years, communities across the U.S. have been forced to close drop-off facilities, end or limit curbside pick-up, and sell or discard materials due to the lack of funding and internal infrastructure necessary to support recycling domestically.
Keep reading to discover common errors people make while recycling and how to minimize landfill footprints while ensuring the appropriate materials get to the right place for recycling.