Where do your recyclables (really) go?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Have you ever asked yourself as to where your recyclables that you put out for collection or that you take to the recycling bank actually end up. The answers would surprise you in may, if not indeed all, cases.


“Oh, they make it back into bottles and such” is what most people believe and say and maybe even you. But that is, in most cases, plain wrong.

A major percentage of all glass collected is crushed and made – wait for it – building sand. Yes, sand, the very thing that glass is made of in the first place; silicate. Only a tiny percentage of bottles and jars from recycling banks and kerbside recycling goes back to become new bottles and jars or any other glass products for that matter.


The recycling of plastic is also very much an issue. The problem is that much of your recyclables in the form of plastic bottles and other plastic containers are while they are collected “at home”, and this is also the case with many other recyclables, they are not recycled “at home” but are shipped to places such as China and India, etc. where the recycling “industry” is not subject to the same stringent regulations as would be the case “at home”.

Many of the recyclables that you, and others, so diligently put out for kerbside recycling never actually make it to any recycling plants, whether “at home” or “abroad”. If there is no market for them – that is to say if there is an 'oversupply' – they simply get landfilled the way it used to be and the same goes for anything that may be “contaminated”.

This is why waste reduction and especially reduction of packaging, and reuse and upcycling in DIY fashion is so very important.

The majority of people, conditioned nowadays by the powers-that-be to recycle, obediently toss their cans, plastic, glass, paper, etc. into the appropriate receptacles believing they do a good thing and the Planet a good turn. Reusing like our grandparents did rarely ever enters their minds.

Are we being lied to by our governments as to what happens to most of the recyclables collected? One could say “yes” to this question to a very large degree.

It makes for an educated consumer to change the behavior of industry to reduce packaging and not just in weight as some have done with glass bottles the glass of which has become a great deal thinner. This is only done to benefit the corporations and their bottom line as it reduces weight and they can put more onto a truck. And this is the same reason why some companies have replaced tin cans for, say, chopped tomatoes with Tetrapak like cardboard packs lines with foil. The latter, unlike the tin cans used before, cannot be reused and also not be recycled in most places.

As long as the consumer, however, is left in the belief that the packaging is recyclable and recycled such change is not about to happen soon.

We must understand how things actually work and function in recycling and waste management field to understand as to how the proverbial cookie crumbles.

Paper recycling and that of cardboard is another issue also that is far from as cut and dry as it is more often than not being presented.

A great amount of paper and card collected goes straight to landfill and that more often than not not only because of market saturation but also and especially because of what is referred to as contamination.

Contamination, as far as paper and card is concerned are the wrong kind of printed matter, such as glossies, for instance, or ink jet printed pages. This ink of the latter which is, more often than not, not waterproof but actually water soluble, and certain colors of this can make the entire batch unusable and in cardboard items such as Pizza boxes and other card with grease or “paper” cups which are lined with either a plastic or a wax liner. Here often people are fault rather than the municipalities, etc., and that through ignorance.

But, again, when the market is saturated with recyclable paper waste the rest gets landfilled and often even at other times.

All of this makes a mockery of kerbside recycling (and other methods) that we are presented with. The only way to go is that of waste reduction and as most of this waste is packaging it is reduction of this, of packaging. Furthermore we have to think REUSE rather than recycling and reuse and upcycle as much as we possibly can. Our ancestors did and we must do so (again) as well.

© 2013