What Really Happens To Your Recycling When You Leave It Out For Collection – Does It Really Do Any Good?


When it comes to being eco-friendly and going green, recycling is one of the most fundamental and aspects with the most participation. While it takes someone quite dedicated to the cause to change their purchasing habits or to install solar panels on their roof, recycling is something that all of us can take part in and that everyone understands. But the question is, does it really benefit the environment as much as we think it does? Or is it just a money making scam that we’ve all fallen for? Do you really know where all those materials you dispose of go? Here we will look at what actually happens to the things you leave out for the recycling, and just how good it really is for the environment…

Where Does it Go?

Recycling Bins - Fairfield, Iowa

When you leave your recycling outside and wake up in the morning to find it gone, it hasn’t been taken away by fairies (though that would be convenient and rather entertaining). Instead it gets taken away in a separate compartment of the rubbish truck and is then dropped off at a Materials Recovery Facility (or MRF) to be sorted, melted down, and ultimately sold back to manufacturers so that they can sell use those materials instead of having to produce their own from scratch or drill for more oil/fell lots of trees.

What’s the Benefit?

So what is the benefit of sending those materials off to manufacturers rather than keeping them here for us to use? Well first of all it means of course that a lot less energy and far fewer natural resources get wasted in the creation of new plastics. This is a significant figure too – in the UK where there are a lot more kerbside programs recycling accounts for roughly a 10% decrease in emissions and this in turn is roughly the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

There’s another bonus too of course, and that’s that those materials don’t get dumped in landfill sites. This is good news because landfill sites take up a lot of valuable space, and also release a lot of noxious gasses include methane and CO2.

But the local wildlife aren’t the only ones to benefit – of course the manufacturing companies benefit from getting cheap materials with a great marketing hook (recyclable materials are great for sales and PR), while the local council and government makes a lot of money from selling off the products you paid for. Don’t get too wrapped up in that aspect though (pun intended) – as you benefit too when the council makes more money and the materials going to the private sector will also aid the economy.

Sorting the Materials

Recycling 7

One of the problems with all this though is the sorting process. More and more companies are now using ‘single stream’ collection systems, which means that they collect all your recyclables in a single go and that someone then needs to sort through these. Fortunately this is mostly handled by machines from companies such as TiTech, and these are highly efficient when it comes to separating plastic from glass from wood. However they do also have their shortcomings, and one of the big issues here is distinguishing between different types of plastic. There are many different kinds of plastics and these all need to be processed in different ways, and this makes life very difficult. A few years back, only 6% of plastics were recovered and this number hasn’t improved much.

Worse, only certain types of plastics are recovered, with the majority of that 6% being PET and HDPE. PET can be used in manufacturing food packaging, but often it ends up being ‘down cycled’ to be used in plastic lumber and carpeting, and this then regularly ends up in landfills after it has been used. If you think about high quality plastics used in gadgets and even toys – most of these never get recycled. When was the last time you put your phone case in the recycling bin?

Supply and Demand

Another problem can often be finding buyers for these materials. In Europe and Japan a law exists that obligates technology manufacturers to recycle, but a lack of a similar law in the US means that we often need to look elsewhere for buyers.

As such then, some of that plastic that does get recycled and retain its quality often ends up being shipped to China where there is a great demand for it. While this isn’t a problem in itself, some parts of China lack the same regulations in place in the US meaning that there’s no guarantee the materials won’t again end up being dumped after all. You can read more about it here: http://www.economist.com/node/9249262?story_id=9249262. In the UK meanwhile there is an over-abundance of green glass and the local wine industry is too small to use it all up.


In conclusion then, recycling is very much a worthy cause and you should get behind it 100%. That said there are areas that could still use improvement – more products should be manufactured with recycling in mind, while better systems could be put in place to ensure we make the most of those materials.

Images via: 1 2 3

Amy Sawyer is a freelance writer working for Skip and Bin in the UK. She is a happy go lucky person and believes in living life to the fullest. She is a nature lover and in today’s post she has mentioned the importance of recycling. She is a big fan of her company’s initiative Skip and Bin hire which deals with hiring people for its recycling campaigns.

Did you enjoy this article? Please leave us a comment or share it with friends & colleagues.
Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Tumblr Stumbleupon Pinterest Email
This entry was posted in Recycling, Sustainable Materials. Bookmark the permalink.