Recycling Standards Vary Widely Across US, Causing Contamination

Inconsistent recycling standards across the US lead to contamination rates of up to 17%. Consumers must check with local municipalities to ensure proper recycling and reduce contamination.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Recycling Standards Vary Widely Across US, Causing Contamination

Recycling Standards Vary Widely Across US, Causing Contamination

Recycling standards in the United States differ significantly from one location to another, leading to confusion and contamination rates of up to 17%. "There are literally thousands of recycling standards across the country," said Rajesh Buch, a professor at Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

Why this matters: The inconsistent recycling standards have significant environmental implications, as contamination rates can lead to recyclable materials ending up in landfills, contributing to waste management issues and pollution. Moreover, the lack of standardization hinders the development of a more efficient and effective recycling system, which is crucial for reducing waste and promoting sustainability.

The lack of standardized recycling systems, which can cost tens of millions of dollars, contributes to the complexity. As a result, dumping non-recyclable items in curbside recycling bins can contaminate the waste stream. It is essential to check with local municipalities to determine what types of recyclables they can handle.

Many items are frequently not recyclable or require special facilities. These include aerosol cans, batteries, chip bags and snack packages, ceramics, heat-resistant glass, coffee pods, disposable diapers, and e-waste such as cellphones, printers, and computers. PVC (number 3) plastic is particularly difficult to recycle.

Plastic containers often have a resin identification code (recycling arrows with a number in the center). Most recycling facilities accept empty, clean, and dry number 1 or 2 plastic. However, it's essential to check with local facilities, as some accept numbers 1 through 7, while others don't take number 3, 6, or 7.

Other items with special recycling requirements include light bulbs, which have varying recycling rules and may contain mercury or other chemicals. Needles and sharp medical products require special collection sites or mail-in services to prevent worker injuries. Paper products should be assumed contaminated if used for food or hazardous materials, as the fibers are too short to be recyclable.

To ensure proper recycling, it's crucial to check with local municipalities and follow specific guidelines for each type of material. The wide variation in recycling standards across the US highlights the need for consumers to stay informed and take responsibility for reducing contamination in the recycling stream.

Key Takeaways

  • US recycling standards vary significantly by location, leading to 17% contamination rates.
  • Inconsistent standards hinder efficient recycling, contributing to waste and pollution.
  • Check with local municipalities to determine what can be recycled curbside.
  • Some items, like aerosol cans and PVC plastic, are difficult or impossible to recycle.
  • Stay informed and follow local guidelines to reduce contamination in recycling streams.