What Really Needs to Be Recycled?

Sorting paper from plastics.

Do you have any idea what happens to your trash and your recyclables after you set them out on the curb? What really needs to be recycled… and are you just wasting your time by sorting your own waste?

Saving the World

Recycling became an “in” thing to do after Americans started to become Earth-conscious in the late 1970s and 1980s. There was a big landfill scare that sparked the craze, but trash has changed in the past three decades. Today, we recycle about 30 percent of all trash.

By EPA estimates, in 2003 alone United States households generated more than 236 trillion tons of trash. Each individual creates about 4 ½-pounds of trash each day. About 1 pound of that daily total is recycled.

But what’s really going on with your trash and your recyclables? How do you know your trash collection agency isn’t just pouring your carefully recycled items right into the local landfill?

Trash Collection

If your household generates over 4 pounds of trash in one day, you could get swamped with garbage in just a few months. Thankfully, garbage collectors come by and take all that rubbish away for you. But what happens next?

Trash collection agencies use different methods for managing the trash they gather. Some companies use source-separated methods in which recycled materials are sorted when trash is collected. These facilities often have high recycling rates – 90 percent and above. Other facilities sort trash after it’s collected, and recycling rates may be far lower. Due to contamination and mechanical failures, many of the recycled materials you set aside may in fact be tossed in with the rest of the trash.

Recycling itself is evolving, and it’s much easier to do. Trash collection agencies now use magnets, laser lights and electric currents to locate recyclable materials within the stuff they collect. Recycled materials are worth money, and few companies are willing to overlook that. Your recyclables are sold to manufacturers and other countries willing to pay for them to make new goods (chiefly China).

Trash is not valuable; it’s a problem. Trash has to be disposed of, so it’s more economical for trash collection facilities to sort out recyclable materials. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that all your recyclables are actually getting recycled. Papers that are covered with organic material (food particles), small pieces of glass, PVC pipe and many other materials frequently do not get recycled.

But you can do your own recycling. When you do, you get to keep all the money you make from it.

Recycling Makes Money Too

When I was a child, my grandparents’ basement was always filled with plastic garbage bags filled with aluminum cans. They were each carefully rinsed, drained, and crushed (so that more of them would fit in the basement). Once, I asked my grandfather why. He told me he was using them to put my aunt through college. I thought he was joking… and then I learned some of the hidden truths about recycling for cash.

Crafting is the new craze, and people are willing to pay for the stuff you might ordinarily throw away. Sell your glass bottles and wine corks on Ebay or Etsy, and earn cash for them. You can also sell box tops, bottle caps, soup labels and other “trashy” items.

Used cooking oil can be converted into fuel. As such, many different companies will actually buy your old oil. Look for them online to see if there is such a center close to you, and start saving the money you’re just pouring down the drain.

To Recycle or Not Recycle

Should you recycle? Yes! It’s a good way to earn money, and if you aren’t using it for cash you’re still boosting the national economy. Recycled materials are more valuable than trash, so treat them differently. Paper, plastics and glass are the chief recyclables used. Keep yours sorted from your waste, because they don’t belong there.