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Recycling 101 – Recycling Myths Debunked!

Recycling is an extremely complex process, there’s no denying it. Materials like plastic, aluminium, and glass all require different, complicated processes to break them down and turn them into new materials.

Because of the complexity of recycling, and the fact that different locations have different requirements for recycling, there are a lot of recycling myths out there. Some of the myths even contradict one another, which only adds to the confusion.

So, for Recycling 101 this month, we thought we’d debunk the most common myths once and for all. Check out the myths below, and what the truth is instead.

Myth: People know how to recycle

A 2019 survey revealed that “94% of Australians are making recycling mistakes, despite 60% being extremely confident in their recycling habits.”

It’s clear there is a disconnect between what we think we should do and what we actually should do. Unfortunately, that means that contamination rates remain high and that some of what is recycled ends up in the landfill after all.

This disconnect comes from people not understanding local requirements and the fact that recycling differs everywhere. The best thing you can do to make this myth become reality is to educate yourself about recycling in your area through your city's website, choose reusables to create less waste, and have a clear recycling plan in place.

This myth is false.

Myth: Recycling is the same everywhere

While it would certainly make things a lot easier if this were true, unfortunately recycling regulations vary from country to country, region to region, council to council, and even provider to provider. That means that where you live may have different regulations from where you work, and if you move you have to learn all a whole new set of rules.

Some of the common differences between regional councils include what number plastics are recycled, whether you have to remove lids from plastic containers before recycling, and if compostable/biodegradable materials are accepted at composting facilities.

It’s important to get your recycling correct, so check with your local government and your waste provider to avoid contaminating a batch of recycling unknowingly.

This myth is false.

Myth: Recycling is costly

Recycling is an easy way to reduce your waste bill, especially when it's done correctly. As we continue to move away from single-stream or co-mingled recycling, waste management providers are able to charge significantly lower rates for uncontaminated streams of easy-to-recycle materials such as paper or glass. Particularly as landfill levies continue to rise around the world, recycling can actually decrease your overall waste costs.

Further, many locations have implemented or are looking to implement programs that financially incentivise doing the right thing such as container deposit schemes. If you live in a place where one of these schemes is already in place and you don’t utilise it, it’s actually costing you to not recycle.

This myth is false, though contamination may cost you.

Myth: Recycling isn't worth it

This is a more recent myth that has seeped into society, especially after China stopped buying plastic waste from other countries in 2018. While it’s true that recycling rates worldwide remain low, it’s because new facilities need to be built to be able to process the amount of waste we create on-shore. Unfortunately, there currently isn't as big of a push for recycling as there should be in many places and therefore the system, as it stands, doesn't work.

Almost all materials can be recycled, in the right circumstances. Glass and metal, in particular, are relatively easy to recycle and can be recycled forever without losing quality. Plastic is a bit harder, but still can be recycled several times before losing quality. However, there are better options than recycling – like reducing our waste in the first place – but recycling is still an important part of a circular economy, in which recycled materials are valued higher than virgin products. As the world pushes for a more circular economy, recycling will become more crucial, so it's important that we continue to practice it and advocate for better systems.

This myth is partially false, as the current systems are far from perfect, but when done right, recycling is absolutely worth it.

Myth: The chasing arrows icons mean its recyclable

This is a very common misconception about recycling, that has prevailed for more than forty years. Unfortunately, this symbol does not mean recyclable when it’s on the bottom of plastic containers. Instead, it signals to manufacturers the type of plastic from which the container is made.

Realising the issue this symbol has caused, some countries like Australia and the UK have introduced better, clear labels to help consumers, but it’s still a complicated process.

The best thing to do is educate yourself about what the numbers mean and learn what is accepted and what isn’t accepted in your recycling stream.

This myth is false.

Myth: If it doesn’t go in the co-mingled recycling bins, it’s not recyclable

Actually, most materials are recyclable in the right environments. E-waste for instance, is very important to recycle, but isn’t collectedin kerbside bins or in normal commercial collections due to the cost of processing, however you can find a provider in most areas.

Finding ways to recycle hard-to-recycle items can be a great way of working toward zero waste practices in the workplace. Look up sustainability groups in your area, or contact companies directly to see if they can take back their old products to responsibly recycle them.

This myth is false.

Myth: Materials can only be recycled once

Most materials can be recycled more than once – even plastic. While plastic is not as infinitely recyclable as glass or metal, it can still be recycled a few times. Some plastic is harder to recycle than others and is generally not accepted at recycling centres, but some plastics – like #1, 2, and 5 – can routinely be recycled into new products of a similar quality.

Though, it is important to note that most plastic either has to be downcycled into a product of lower quality after two or three times, or that some virgin plastic may be necessary in the recycling process. That’s why it’s still important to avoid plastic where possible, purchase products that contain recycled materials, and choose easier-to-recycle materials as the first choice.

This myth is false.

Myth: Switching to biodegradable materials would solve the problem of waste

In the last few years, there has been a push toward compostable plastics, also known as bioplastics, as the solution to our worldwide waste woes. It’s easy to see why this solution would be widely accepted – it would allow us to continue consuming as normally, but with plastic that breaks down easily and without harming the environment.

Unfortunately, that’s not true in reality. It’s true that bioplastics and other biodegradable materials will break down quickly under the right conditions, usually in high-temperature commercial compost facilities. However, most people don’t have access to those and they are more likely to end up in the landfill. When this happens, they’ll break down slowly and release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

There are benefits to swapping out petrol-based products for organic materials, often from food processing waste. However for it to be an effective solution there needs to be widely-available end-of-life solutions and reusable or recyclable solutions to be exhausted first.

This myth is partially false.

Myth: The job is done when the recycling is in the right bin

When you recycle at home, you have to have a level of trust that the waste collectors will properly sort and dispose of your waste. However, in a workplace, there are often more steps need to ensure waste is properly managed.

For one, ensure that the cleaners are engaged and have a clear understanding of your organisation’s waste and recycling goals. This is usually the second step in a workplace recycling system and it’s important that everyone’s on board.

Additionally, you’ll want to find the best waste provider that you trust to correctly handle your waste. You’ll want one that collects all the right streams and sorts them to ensure they actually end up recycled. Once you’ve done those things, you can rest assured that your recycling system is functioning properly.

This myth is false.


There are a lot of recycling myths floating about – probably more than what we listed here. The best ways to combat these myths is to stay engaged and informed about recycling and waste systems. Keep up with your local recycling regulations, correct misinformation when you hear it, and share this with your team, so they can become better informed as well.

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