Is what we're recycling actually getting recycled?
17th June 2014
... Comments

As the waste collectors cart your recyclables away, have you ever wondered: Where do those materials go once they're picked up? Will they will actually be recycled? How do you know they’re not just going to end up in a landfill?

Some people still have to separate their recycling.Plastic in one bin, glass in another, paper in a third but here in Portsmouth people can put all of their recyclables into one bin, fortunately! This method does, though,lead to the question of wether our carefully sorted recyclables aren’t actually being recycled.

However, single bin collection is the result of a change in technology. Better equipment has been developed that sorts through our recyclables for us.Magnets and electric currents separate different metals, while infrared lasers sort different kinds of paper and plastic containers from one another, based on the light wavelength each type of material emits.

Unless you follow your recyclables through the entire process until they're made into new products, it’s impossible to say for certain whether your materials are actually being recycled. But, logically, the reason you can feel assured that most of your recyclables actually get recycled is because they have a monetary value.

Recyclables are considered a commodity -- items that can be sold. Those cans, bottles and boxes you recycle can be broken down into raw materials again and sold to manufacturers. And since consumers like products made from recycled materials, manufacturers buy more recycled materials for their products. This means the prices for these commodities increases, which means recycling programs remain feasible.

So your recyclables are valuable. Rubbish, on the other hand, is not. In fact, waste companies are generally charged fees for the right to dump their waste collections at landfills and the only real difference between rubbish and recyclables is what happens after they’re picked up. So ultimately, it would not be a good business plan for a waste management company to pick up your recyclables and simply dump them in a landfill.


Since your recyclables will eventually be sold to manufacturers, they must meet certain standards. They can’t have too many impurities, since recycled materials compete with fresh materials for use in manufacturing, so the cleaner the materials you return, the more likely it is they will be recycled.

This means that the pizza box covered in grease and cheese you throw into your recycling bin will end up in a landfill. So, too, will tiny pieces of broken glass, especially when the pieces are different colors (called mixed-glass cullet). Many recycling programs won't take some products that are very difficult to recycle. Number one among them is PVC. This kind of plastic contains too many additives to be recycled in most cases, since these additives can affect the purity of a batch of recycled plastic.

The remnants of the materials that can’t be recycled are called residual. The less residual a recycling plant allows, the more money it makes, since residual is simply thrown away at a cost to the recycling outfit.


Because of its unparalleled economic growth, China has become the world’s largest importer of recycled raw materials. Many of the used items you put in your recycling bin make their way to China although not everything that ends up in China can be used.

Because China began buying old printer cartridges in the early 21st century, the cartridges went suddenly from trash to treasure. As a result, shops began accepting used cartridges and consumers began bringing them in.

However, the most valuable part of the ink cartridge, it turns out, is the ink. After removing the last little drops from cartridges, the ink can be repackaged and sold. The cartridges are simply discarded, causing landfills in China to fill up with empty plastic printer cartridges. What’s worse, an investigation found that in Guiyu, China, dumping or burning of these cartridges resulted in the local drinking supply becoming tainted with 200 times the acceptable levels of acid and 2,400 times the acceptable levels of lead .

Of course, reports from other scources confirm that many recyclables do indeed end up in a landfill - one paper from the Department of Environment,Food and Rural Affairs revealed some years ago that many managers at plants that recycle rubbish for industrial use say that some or hardly any of it is usable.This news only confirms many householders fears - forced to comply with fortnightly collection rules and bin police regulations - that their painstaking recycling efforts end up in a landfill.

Ultimately, we can only hope that our efforts are worthwhile and that everything we sort and put into our green bin does actually get recycled and reused.


About the Author

Peter L

Member since: 4th June 2013

An owner of Thebestof Portsmouth, I have lived in Portsmouth and Southsea all my life, so I like to think I have a good idea about what makes us tick. I am passionate about all things Portsmouth and Southsea,...

Popular Categories