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Questions You Asked: Recycling

A few of you recently reached out, curious about recycling- and asked some very good questions. We did some research and condensed it for you here in this blog post. We've linked our sources so that you can learn more if you wish.

Conserving the earth's resources helps us to love our neighbors by reducing the pollution created by our consumption, reducing what results from decomposing in a landfill, and reducing the amount of new resources that need to be gathered. All of these processes affect our neighbors health through the water, air, and land that they come into contact with. This is why understanding recycling is important to us as Christians. So, thank you for the questions about recycling!

Should you throw something in the recycling bin even if it doesn't have a recycling logo?

Recycling centers are designed to sort items made of very specific materials. Large machines sort the recycling based upon material. Combinations of materials or garbage can't be processed. Sometimes these foreign items jam the machines, requiring workers to unjam the machines by hand, which is extremely dangerous. Workers have to deal with trash such as syringes, non-recyclable metals, foreign objects that they don't recognize, contaminated garbage full of chemicals, etc. One thing to make sure of is to not stick plastic bags in the recycling bin even if they say they are recyclable. These often get caught on the machines and jam the machines making recycling more expensive and dangerous for the workers. Recyclable plastic bags have to be recycled in special facilities. Some grocery stores collect bags for recycling. That is the place to do it. Check out this website for more info:

How clean do things actually have to be?

In general, the cleaner the better. A great rinse to remove food from plastic containers is needed for recycling. But, they don't have to be sterilized level clean. What you want to avoid is leaving food residue that will grow mold and contaminate the other recycled items around it. When a batch is contaminated, the recycling facility has no option but to dump it all in the landfill. They aren't equipped for cleaning and sterilizing, only sorting. Contamination is one of the reasons that China has stopped buying plastic recycling from the USA. Grease and oil is something that cannot be rinsed/cleaned out of a product, so if the item has grease (think greasy pizza boxes) or oil, it cannot be recycled. Another example of an unrecycleable item is motor oil plastic bottles. Even though the bottle has a recycling symbol on it, it is the oil inside that makes it un-recyclable. And definitely don't wash that oil out and down the sink. Waste water treatment facilities are not designed for oil contamination remediation.

Do you really have to take stickers off of items?

Most recycling centers do not require stickers or labels to be removed. Unless your recycling hauler specifically requires it, the heat involved in recycling takes care of the labels. Find more info here:

What actually happens to the bottle when I recycle it?

Items thrown in the recycling bin are sent to a recycling sorter. This series of machines systematically separates the plastic, glass, metal, and attempts to sort the trash. The plastic then gets sorted into its separate types #1-#8 by machines (see the number that is on the inside of the recycling arrows). What is important to note is that not all 'recyclable material' is actually recycled, even at recycling centers. It turns out that often only plastics with #1 and #2 have economic value. Numbers #3-#8 are often sent to the landfill after being sorted at the recycling facility. Check out Greenpeace's great report on recycling. Here is a snapshot of what they have found regarding "low value" plastics:

What common things do we think can be recycled but actually can't?

This is a great question and a continuation of the previous one. Even though plastics often have a recycling logo, if they are #3-#8 they often are not recycled because the value is so low. Here is a list of other common items that can't be recycled. You might be surprised.

Can't be recycled:

  • Shopping receipts

  • Plastic shopping bags (unless received by facility specifically designed for them)

  • Zip loc bags

  • Small items like gum wrappers

  • Aluminum foil

  • Flexible packaging (even if it says is recyclable - note: it jams the machines)

  • Paper with metallic accents or glitter

  • Pizza boxes

  • Mirrors

  • Pyrex

  • Shower curtains

  • Photos

  • Styrofoam

Check out this website for a more complete list of items that can and cannot be recycled:

If you crush a pop can, will it still be recycled?

Some facilities can process crushed cans, and some can't. The reason that some can't is because the shape becomes difficult for the automatic sorters to process the unique shape. The cans find their way into crevices and cracks where they aren't supposed to go. It is best to leave them in their original shape. Facilities are designed to handle these rounder shapes that are similar to soup and vegetable cans. Check out's article for more info:

We really enjoyed researching your questions and learned a ton about recycling as we searched for answers. Let us know if you have any questions that you'd like us to ivnestigate. We love questions about faith, what the Bible says, sustainability, working conditions, loving others, the christian life, and the environment, so send them our way! As always, thank you for taking the time to read our articles and checking out our website. If you liked this article and found it helpful, share it with a friend!

Additional Info:

If you have Netflix, check out Broken: Recycling. It is a very interesting look into the recycling process. You will have a much better idea of the realities of what happens to your recycling after you throw it in the bin.

If you want to see a recycling sorting facility in action check out:


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