Ever wonder what happens to your face cream container, hand soap bottle, soda can, plastic bottle, or anything recyclable after you put it in your recycling? Or did you ever stop to consider where the shipping box came from before hitting your doorstep? And when you’re finished with a product, how do you know if the item is recyclable in your community.
These questions swirl around before our eyes every time we finish with something. Do I compost it? Recycle it? Reuse it? Or trash it? Or ……?
What Can I Recycle?
Before we can answer that simple question, let’s talk about the recycling symbol, or mobius loop, you find on your packaging. Did you know that displaying the recycling symbol on an item doesn’t always mean that item is recyclable in your curbside recycling? Yep! The number inside of the mobius loop tells you what your product is made from – but your local recycling program decides what materials it does and doesn’t accept.
Always check your local community’s recycling website to know what is and isn’t accepted in your town. There are some materials accepted across all communities, including aluminum cans, paper, flattened cardboard, and plastic made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (think water and soda bottles) and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) (think detergent bottles) … all other accepted items differ from one community to another. For instance, materials that are often (but not always!) accepted include cartons, glass, pizza boxes, and other metal cans.
Don’t Bag Your Recyclables
So now that you’ve checked what you can and can’t recycle in your community, let’s consider some of the don’ts of recycling. A big no-no in communities with curbside recycling are plastic bags. While you may think bagging recyclables is neat and tidy, the unfortunate truth is, plastic bags get caught in recycling machinery. These bags can damage equipment and must be manually retrieved by recycling workers, which can lead to serious injuries.
Not only should you not bag your recycling, but plastic bags do not belong in your recycling cart. Remember what you just read about the recycling symbol? Although plastic shopping bags may contain a mobius loop, these are not recyclable in your recycling cart. Plastic shopping bags can only be recycled when they are returned to a participating retail location, such as a grocery or hardware store.
See this blog on why plastic bags don’t work with recycling. And, please for the safety of your community’s recycling workers, do not put your recycling in bags or place plastic bags in your recycling unless your community instructs you to do so.
What Is Recycled Content?
Another big question we often hear is, what is recycled content? When a product is made from materials that have previously been recycled, it’s made from recycled content. This does not, however, mean that it is automatically recyclable again. It may contain multiple different types of materials making it difficult to recycle. This is also why it’s so important to check your local program’s website. Live in an apartment or condo? Ask your property manager for a listing of what is and isn’t recyclable at your residence.
What Happens When You Recycle?
OK so we’ve covered the questions of what is recyclable and what is recycled content, now what happens when you recycle?
Great question! We have this informational video to help explain, but the 411 is that you put your product (empty and dry) into the recycling. It will get sorted into a big pile or bale, with other materials just like it at a recycling facility, known as a materials recovery facility or MRF. The MRF then sells bales of materials to manufacturers who utilize that material to create new products and packaging. It’s simple … we truly form a circle.
A brand manufactures a product, you use it, you recycle it, a MRF sends it to manufacturers for remaking it into a new product, and then you buy a product made from recycled material. This is what’s called the lifecycle of circular packaging. We all play a part!
Aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable, the material in a plastic bottle can be recycled approximately 10 times but can also be made into clothing, carpet, and other products, and cardboard boxes can be recycled and back on your doorstep again as a new box in as few as 60 days.
The world of recycling and circular packaging is part of what we consider a circular economy – one that seeks to eliminate waste by reusing and remaking a product over and over again. Only through your recycling can we protect the planet by reducing waste and using fewer natural resources.