Single Stream Recycling is a Lie, and Other Recycling Facts No One Wants To Tell You

It’s taken me months to get to the bottom of these Recycling Mysteries, and some of them are pretty shocking, so let’s get right to it:

  • The only plastic numbers that actually get recycled are Numbers 1 and 2, and possibly 5.

This is because 1 and 2 are the only varieties of plastic for which there is an actual market/ monetary value. Regardless of what your service provider is telling you, numbers 3, 4, 6 and 7 are not getting recycled. They are getting shipped to some unfortunate country to junk up their environment.

  • Plastics with no numbers don’t get recycled.

They end up in either the landfill or the incinerator. One form of “wishful recycling” I’ve heard a lot is “but it’s rigid plastic! That’s always recyclable, right?” The sad answer is: nope.

  • All screw-off caps should be removed.

 They make the containers difficult to crush and cause them to pop out of the machines. Anything that pops out of the machines is probably going to get trashed.

  • Anything smaller than 2 inches doesn’t get recycled.

These items are too small to go through the recycling machines, and will end up on the processing facility floor. Anything that ends up on the floor is probably going to get trashed.

  • Plastic films must have all labels and stickers removed before they can be recycled in the plastic film bin at the supermarket.

If you can’t pull stickers and labels off they must be cut out, or the glue on the sticker will contaminate the recycling and mess it up. Then the whole batch gets trashed. The sticker is not recyclable.

  • “Compostables” are pretty much a total lie.

They are not compostable, (at least not in the backyard compost sense,) not recyclable, (#7 gets trashed,) and do not degrade in a landfill.


At long last: ACTUAL FACTS. Depressing facts, but still.

If you are a person who pays any attention to the issue of recycling, you’ve likely been frustrated by how elusive basic principles of recycling can be.

You’ve heard “When in doubt, throw it out!” or “just ask your garbage/recycling service provider!” But these are not “recycling principles;” these are cop-outs. Real answers, like the ones above, are slipperier than an eel at a banana factory.

But why?

Because the system is much worse than just confusing. The system is broken. And worse than that, it’s dangerous: to us and to our planet.

Much of current, single stream recycling is, in fact, a lie, at least when it comes to plastic. The seas are filling up with plastic. Humans are drinking water and eating food contaminated by micro-plastics. The environment and our bodies alike are suffering the results of this onslaught of a material that never degrades, never goes away. Did you know they are finding micro-plastics in human poop now? We’ve all become walking micro-processing plants of trash.

As any environmental expert will tell you, the plastic recycling problem all comes down to who pays. Even when you’re talking about the plastics #1 and 2, China stopped accepting our plastic waste in 2018, leaving our cities and counties to make the choice between paying to landfill or burn it, paying to send this stuff away and make it some poorer country’s problem, or paying to recycle it (the most expensive option).

Sure, we as consumers can pay: we can contact Terracycle and go through a somewhat elaborate process to pay them to recycle, if we can afford that luxury. But in either of these two scenarios, the taxpayer is ultimately footing the bill for the packaging a large company is dumping on us.

It’s like we’re paying for our products twice.

When I look at the facts above, I have to wonder why companies are allowed to produce literally thousands of different varieties of plastics, with no responsibility for where they end up. I have to wonder why it is such a hush-hush secret that out of seven plastic categories, only two are legitimately getting recycled- sometimes.

Final Thought: What is the responsibility of the companies who are making this stuff?

8 thoughts on “Single Stream Recycling is a Lie, and Other Recycling Facts No One Wants To Tell You

  1. That certainly is disheartening. I’m willing to pay more for an item that is compostable, but I don’t know how many people are.
    We are in a world of trouble.
    Thank you for researching this subject.

  2. This is a really interesting read. I’m going to use your blog in my email.

    I run a recycling program for #5 plastics and the world needs to know the truth about single stream recycling

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