Recycling is easier, cleaner, and safer than you think. Busting the biggest myths.
Every year, 130-million metric tons of scrap waste found a second life thanks to recycling.
In the United States alone, the recycling industry generates almost $18-billion in export sales annually.
And about 94% of Americans have recycling resources — in the form of curbside and drop-off facilities — available to them.
Despite this widespread access and the industry’s major contribution to global economies, we only recycle about one-third of our waste, in part because of persistent misinformation that discourages potential participants.
Here, we bust four of the most common recycling myths.
Myth #1: Recycling Isn’t Actually Environmentally Friendly
In 2004, the Las Vegas-based entertainment duo Penn and Teller devoted an episode of their popular TV show “Bulls–t!” to the argument that recycling is worse for the environment than throwing those same items away. Looking closer, the information they provided against the environmental benefits of recycling was incomplete and focused only on paper recycling. Not only does that not represent all recycling, the basis of their argument is also severely out of date by now.
And yet the myth persists.
While most people don’t need to be sold on the value of recycling, there’s still a strain of skepticism out there. Recent polls by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) found that only 49% of people surveyed believed recycling reduces greenhouse emissions.
Today, however, there’s good evidence that repurposing scrap materials is more environmentally friendly than manufacturing products from raw materials. “For example,” says Adam Dumes, VP at Cohen Recycling, “aluminum is infinitely recyclable without losing its properties.
That process isn’t absolutely zero-impact, but that must be taken in the context of the effects of mining new bauxite ore, which then still has to be processed into aluminum. That’s a part of the supply chain that most people never see or even think about in the context of recycling.”
In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, recycling and composting cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 186-million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Manufacturing a product from recycled plastics is 87% more energy efficient than producing the same item with virgin materials. Recycling a single ton of steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone. And the process of recycling — all that sorting, sifting, and separating — keeps hazardous materials such as mercury and lead out of landfills, preventing them from leaching into the surrounding ecosystem.
Myth #2: Recycling Stops at Curbside
According to the EPA, more than 70% of Americans live in communities with curbside recycling, though only an estimated 55% actually participate in those programs. But there are limits to what these mixed programs can take, which can leave people wondering what to do with what’s left over.
“People may think that if the recycling truck won’t pick it up, their only other option is to trash it,” says Marisa Head, spokesperson for Cohen Recycling. “But that’s not true. Curbside might be the most convenient way to recycle, but it’s not the only way.”
In fact, roughly 64% of Americans live in communities with drop-off recycling centers, and that includes the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton regions. Those facilities can often take a wide array of materials that curbside services leave behind, while some specialize in just one category, like scrap metal.
Pipes, wires, electronics, vehicles, and many household appliances are all examples of things that don’t belong in the curbside bin – or in landfills.
So, when you’re ready to get rid of something a little unusual, get in touch! You might be surprised at how easy it is to recycle more. It may take a little extra effort, but it’s worth it: for example, every ton of paper that’s recycled saves more than three cubic yards of landfill space for non-recyclable waste.
Myth #3: Recycling is too complicated
The days of hand-sorting your recyclables are largely behind us. Instead, most curbside programs use a “single-stream” approach, meaning paper, plastic, and metal can all go in the same bin for pickup, to be sorted later at a recycling facility. This process is simple by design, but when it comes to things that don’t belong in the bin, it’s not as clear-cut. With so many varied materials and items to recycle, and exceptions to every rule of thumb, there’s a lot of room for confusion. That can discourage people from trying.
However, you might be surprised at how straightforward and simple the process is.
“We don’t expect all of our customers to know exactly what kind of scrap metal,” says Head. “Some things are easy, like aluminum cans or copper pipes, but not everything is that obvious. That’s where our experts come in. All you really need to do is bring it to us, and we’ll do the complicated part.”
At Cohen Recycling, customers simply pull into the drive-through, where knowledgeable employees unload, separate, weigh, and price the items.
There’s no hassle, and you’ll even be paid for most of what you drop off.
If you’re ever uncertain about whether something you have is recyclable, the answer is just a phone call away.
Myth #4: Scrap recycling is scary and dangerous
It’s not uncommon that people who have never visited a scrap recycling center are intimidated and anxious about their first visit. After all, towering piles of sharp, twisted, and crushed scrap metal, surrounded by heavy machinery and huge trucks, isn’t an atmosphere that most members of the public are used to.
But recycling companies don’t just work to protect the environment as a whole – they care about the environment inside their facilities, too.
Industry and company regulations are designed and frequently updated to maximize worker and customer safety. ISRI and its member companies follow the motto, “Safely or not at all,” and strive toward a zero-accident goal. ISRI’s regulations and standard practices provide an extra layer of protection beyond typical Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.
“There are certainly risks involved in any industrial environment like this,” Dumes acknowledges. “That’s why safety is a core value at every level of our organization, a commitment that extends to our customers. We are always looking for ways to improve and modernize our facilities and make for a better customer experience, so customers can feel confident and welcome every time they visit.”