6 Common Misconceptions About Recycling

February 07, 2022

Recycling turns old, unwanted things into new, valuable resources by collecting various reusable materials, sorting them based on their composition, and, after they’ve been repurposed, marketing the new, sustainable goods for sale to consumers.

Successful recycling depends on manufacturers, technology, municipalities, collectors (waste haulers), distributors, sorters, businesses, custodians, governments, and individuals like you and me all working toward a common goal. With that many stakeholders, recycling can feel infinitely complicated, but the more straightforward recycling programs are, the more resources we can capture.

On that note, we’ve put together this list of six common misconceptions about recycling, new ways to think about them, and, most important, what to do about them.

  • Misconception: The “chasing arrows” symbol on a plastic container or other piece of plastic packaging means that it can be recycled.

    Fact: The “chasing arrows” symbol was adopted by the plastics industry in the late 1980s, and the number found inside the arrows denotes which type of plastic resin is used to make the packaging. Of the seven categories of plastics the numbers identify, only two of them — No. 1, which is often plastic water bottles, and No. 2, which includes plastic jugs used for products like milk and laundry detergent — are consistently recycled, meaning they are easy for the public to collect, effectively sorted, and maintain a high enough value to be made into new products.

The symbol is unregulated, and it does not mean that the packaging it appears on is made from recycled plastic. Make sure to recycle empty plastic bottles and jugs, and check your local program guidelines for other plastics accepted in your community.

  • Misconception: All plastics that go into a curbside recycling container get recycled.

    To be recycled, all similar plastic materials must be grouped together in bales, and a buyer or manufacturer must have an interest in buying the material. Plastic packaging can come in many shapes and sizes, which can make it a very useful material for protecting products, but can also make it difficult to sort — as well as difficult to find a market willing to pay for and manufacture with the material.

No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, which have defined sorting practices and typically strong markets interested in using the materials, make up about 11.5% of the total recycling stream. That might not seem like much, but this is measured by weight along with other materials like paper, glass, and metals. (Think about how much heavier a glass bottle is than a plastic one.) Other plastic packaging — which can vary depending on sorting capabilities and markets — make up about 4.5%.

If you’re interested in learning more about residential recycling (sometimes called “curbside”) in the U.S., we recommend checking out The Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of Curbside Recycling report.

  • Misconception: Like aluminum and glass, recyclable plastic materials that are recovered via curbside collection are converted into new packaging.

    Recycled plastics can return in many forms. For example, plastic from bottles often becomes feedstock (i.e. raw material)[1]  for strapping, plastic lumber, automotive products, crates, buckets, fiber for clothing, and lawn and garden products — most of which can’t be recycled again through curbside recycling. Less often, recycled plastics return in packaging that can be recycled again, like food and beverage containers (which need FDA approval for purity).

Consider purchasing products made from recycled content, which encourages strong recycling markets.

  • Misconception: All types of glass bottles and jars can be recycled.

    Some jurisdictions accept glass mixed in with other recyclables, others collect glass in a separate container curbside, and still others accept glass only at specific drop-off locations (if they accept glass at all).

Unlike plastic, glass can be recycled infinitely into new bottles. However, glass recycling varies dramatically from community to community[2]  — because it is so heavy to transport that it depends on local processing capabilities and markets. Also, broken glass can often complicate recycling for other materials, like paper, so some communities are hesitant to collect those materials together.

Consumers should refer to their local recycling program’s guidelines to see if glass is accepted, and if so, how to submit it for recycling.

  • Misconception: Plastic bags can go in the recycling bin.

    Plastic bags are often recyclable, but in most cases, they shouldn’t be put in curbside recycling bins. This is because plastic bags can often jam up the machinery used by many recycling facilities to move and sort recyclables. And for this reason, the plastic bags (and frequently, any recyclables placed inside them) run the risk of being separated out and thrown away when they reach the recycling facility.

Rather, to recycle plastic bags, consumers should seek out drop-off bins meant specifically for plastic bag recycling. These can often be found at supermarkets, large retailers like Walmart and Target, and smaller recycling centers. To find a nearby drop-off location, consumers can use this search tool provided by the American Chemistry Council’s Plastic Division.

  • Misconception: When it comes to plastics, there are only two choices — recycling and wasting.

    Source-reduction strategies can also contribute greatly to sustainability efforts. And for most individuals and households, they are relatively simple to implement.

Among the ways consumers can reduce the consumption of plastic packaging and the virgin materials used to make plastics:
– using refillable containers rather than using disposable ones
– buying products in bulk, thereby reducing the amount of packaging consumed
– choosing products that use minimal or no packaging
– opting to buy products that use recyclable packaging materials and/or use packaging made from recycled materials such as glass, metal or paper
– purchasing products made from
100% recycled material

Serious about sustainability

At Wastequip, we’re committed to measurable environmental and social responsibility throughout our industry — and we’re taking steps to lead the way by example. As a manufacturer, we can reduce the carbon footprint of our products by reducing the amount of virgin material we manufacture with, which also creates more demand for recycled material. In 2021, Wastequip’s Toter brand launched Project25, our commitment to reduce the amount of virgin resin we use in our entire cart-manufacturing operation by 25%.

Further, our CORE (COrporate REsponsibility) corporate social responsibility program will continue to hold us accountable to our goals and dream of new ones by:

  • Delivering the progressive thinking and leadership needed to help define the future of the waste industry
  • Creating products and implementing behavioral standards that show respect to the environment and for future generations
  • Ensuring our workforce is diverse, offering employee-development opportunities and valuing a range of varying perspectives
  • Continuing to demonstrate high levels of social consciousness through Wastequip Cares, our corporate program for volunteerism and charitable giving, along with the foresight that makes one proud to be associated with Wastequip



Partner with an organization that knows waste inside and out. 
Contact our experts at Toter today.


About Wastequip

Wastequip is the leading North American manufacturer of waste-handling equipment, with an international network of manufacturing facilities and the most extensive dealer network in the industry. Wastequip’s broad range of waste and recycling equipment, trucks and systems are [3] used to collect, process and transport recyclables, solid waste, liquid waste and organics. The company’s brands include Wastequip®, Toter®, Galbreath, Pioneer™, Mountain Tarp®, ContainerPros®, Wastequip WRX™, Wastebuilt®, wasteware™, ConFab®, Amrep® and Accurate™. For more information, visit www.wastequip.com.

About Toter

Toter, a division of Wastequip, is the leading provider of waste and recycling carts to waste haulers and municipalities in North America. Additional products include specialty carts for document management, electronic waste, organics, medical waste and more. Manufactured using Advanced Rotational Molding, Toter carts offer a greater service life than injection-molded carts. Learn more on the web at www.toter.com.

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