Recycling Myths

Myth: “Recycling means more material to collect.”
The same amount of waste is generated as with an all-disposal system. With recycling, however, the waste is just separated into useful categories that can be reprocessed into usable goods.

Myth: “Not recycling is cheaper than recycling.”
Recycling should always be compared against disposal, since the material still must be transported off campus. Not recycling means paying for disposal. Of course, reuse is the cheapest of all the options!

Recycling NumbersMyth: “If it has the recycling logo on it, I can put it in my recycling bin!”
Unfortunately, no. The shape of the plastic and the number inside the chasing arrows determines whether you can recycle it. The numbers refer to the plastic resin. Some resins are more easily recycled. Recycling markets exist for different materials, but rarely can all plastic be recycled in one area. Check with your recycling provider to see what they accept. Learn more about what you can recycle at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Myth: “Since we have plenty of land for landfills, recycling isn’t important.”
Recycling has many more benefits than simply reducing landfill use: conserving non-renewable natural resources (e.g., trees, oil, minerals, etc.), reducing energy consumption, and reducing the pollution and environmental impacts associated with extracting resources from the earth (e.g., clear-cutting, oil drilling, mining, burning coal to melt steel, etc.).

No community wants to be the “host” of other people’s trash. The impact of a landfill is greater than simply the space it takes up. As organic matter (anything that was once living) breaks down in a landfill, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By reducing the amount of organic material sent to the landfill, through composting and paper recycling, you are helping to reduce greenhouse gases.

Myth: “Recycling bins are ugly and cannot fit into the local aesthetic.”
Recycling bins, which are really no different than trash bins with a lid on them, come in many shapes, styles, and colors and can fit into nearly any aesthetic scheme. Recycling bins, like trash cans, must adhere to certain fire safety and sanitation standards.

Myth: “Someone else will go through the trash and pull out the recyclables before it goes to the landfill.”
Not true! Anything thrown into a trash can at UNC does end up in the landfill. The labor required to sort through trash after it has already been mixed is prohibitive and not safe. There are no garbage “fairies” who sort through trash and make it disappear. The only sensible way of separating paper, bottles and cans from trash is at the “source”; meaning each person separates items at the time they throw it away. At UNC, recycling bins are conveniently located inside most buildings, near dumpster areas, and along campus walkways to make recycling easy!

Myth: “Only white paper is recyclable.”
Just about any type of paper is technically recyclable, including envelopes, post-it notes, colored paper, newspaper, and magazines. Some universal restrictions are waxy or thermal paper (for older fax machines), laminated paper, and food-stained paper. However, different recycling companies require different mixes and restrictions. Make sure to check the details for UNC recycling.

Myth: “Incineration is safe these days and you can burn it for the electricity.”
Incineration still produces emission into the air including air pollutants and greenhouse gases. While it is true that some incinerators also produce electricity, it is not without impact. Recycling the material, or reusing or reducing its use, will save electricity and is a much more efficient way of handling the material.

Myth: “It’s OK to throw something away as long as it’s biodegradable.”
Biodegradable waste needs oxygen, which is scarce in a landfill, to decompose. If it does break down, it produces methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. A better solution is to recycle the material, or even better, reuse it or reduce its use altogether. Composting organics, such as food waste, is an effective option.

Myth: “Recycling is just as good as reusing.”
In fact, “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a hierarchy. For minimal environmental impact, reduce your overall waste first, reuse as much as possible, then recycle and compost the rest. Landfilling should be your very last resort!

Source: Harvard University