Recycling is an easy and accessible way to be green — but only if done correctly.
Recycling substances such as plastic and glass is great for the environment, but trying to recycle the wrong items can contaminate actual recyclable items. When this occurs, all items end up in a landfill, so if people want to recycle properly, it’s important to know what goes where.
To Bruce Underwood, executive director of the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center, there are many sides and benefits to recycling.
“There are lots of environmental benefits [to recycling],” Underwood explained. “With more material recycled, there’s less minerals and oil we have to pull out of the ground.”
Recycling plastics reduces the need to create new plastic in the future. When plastics go to landfills, that potential reuse is essentially gone forever.
“Once something is in a landfill, we’ve locked up that resource,” Underwood said.
Ultimately, having to harvest less resources saves energy in the long-run, Underwood added. But there are also other reasons having a recycling plant nearby is a good thing for the environment.
“The economic benefits is that there are many more jobs associated with recycling than just a landfill,” Underwood said.
A major reason plastic goes to landfills, other than being discarded into a trash bin, is from contamination. Contamination is when a product is not recyclable due to being the wrong substance, or not clean enough for recycling.
“It has less of a value if it’s contaminated,” Underwood said. “Non-recyclable items are contamination. Barbie dolls, garden hose, large pieces of scrap metal — only the items listed [can] go in mixed recycling.”
Items like scrap metal are recyclable, Underwood added, but not at the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center.
Other items that are recyclable can suffer from contamination from not being cleaned properly, Underwood explained. Items like ketchup bottles must be fully cleaned before they can be recycled.
Underwood recommends always doing research before putting an item in recycling, whether from reading labels, making a phone call to ask questions or looking online.
“People can do their research and ask,” Underwood said.
It’s the better choice to throw something away than to recycle it and risk contamination of reusable items.
“If in doubt, throw it out,” Underwood said.
Underwood also noted that recycling is regional, and different items are recyclable at different locations.
“Make sure you pay attention to where you’re at and what programs exist and what they take,” Underwood said. “It differs geographically.”
But for Underwood, it comes down to making sure the item is the right kind of plastic, contamination-free and — ultimately — recyclable.
“Something has to work the material and make it into something else, and if you can't do that, you can't recycle it,” Underwood said.
To Samuel Crowl, educating people on what is and what isn’t recyclable is important.
“It’s a struggle [to educate people about change],” Crowl, assistant director of sustainability, said.
What’s recyclable and what isn’t is always changing, Crowl added. It’s important to update people on the changes.
There are lots of opportunities to recycle on campus. One method the office uses to encourage people to recycle is putting blue bins right next to landfill bins. There are also bins for specialized waste streams, such as cell phones, light bulbs and batteries.
Crowl also recommends confirming that plastics are recyclable and not compostable, a mistake that is easily made and contaminates other recyclable items.
A list of easily recyclable items can be found on the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center website. All items once containing food must be cleaned in order to be non-contaminating and recyclable.
Lauren McCain, a sophomore studying journalism, recycles and pays attention to what she puts into blue bins.
“I think it’s important,” McCain said. “We live here — on the planet — and we should try to take care of it. There’s so much plastic waste.”
For McCain, recycling is part of an urgent effort to fight climate change.
“We need to do as much as we can as fast as we can,” McCain added.