Photo: Yoh Nagao, “Plastic Ocean”

Optimistic recycling: the well-intentioned act of throwing an item in the wrong bin in the hopes that it will be recycled. We’ve all done it. Throwing our coffee cups in the paper bins, for instance. But wait —  isn’t recycling good for the planet?

If only it were that simple. Rules are different based on where you live and what systems are available. And the fact is, sometimes you may be doing more harm than good. Too many misplaced materials can actually contaminate a load and render it unworthy of recycling. Yep, trash is an industry — and if it isn’t profitable, companies won’t take it in.

Ditching one-time use materials altogether is the best thing to do. But when you do have a plastic cup in your hands, of course it’s best to recycle.


Here is a list of 6 things you’re recycling wrong: because if you want to recycle, do it right… Right?


1. Yogurt Cups and other Food Plastics

yogurt cups

Yup, especially since China stopped taking in plastics this year, there is very little market left for certain types of plastics, and many municipalities in the United States just won’t accept plastics numbered 3 to 7 anymore. That includes those big tubs of margarine, vegetable oil bottles, and, those individually-packaged yogurt containers we probably should stop buying but are so tasty and convenient. Darn.


2. Plastic Bags

plastic bag

Make sure you don’t dispose of your recyclable materials in a plastic bag! Put your paper waste into a paper bag before throwing it into the recycling bin, and use a biodegradable bag for your compost. (Hint: most grocery stores started using these). Otherwise, such oversights clog the machinery of the waste managers, and eventually, as is the fate of most plastics, end up killing our wildlife. Seriously, it’s not pretty.


3. Oily Takeout Containers

Chances are, if you were too lazy to cook to avoid doing the dishes, you didn’t think about rinsing last night’s oily noodle containers before throwing them in the plastic bin. Big mistake. When it comes to plastic containers, even a few drops of bad milk can ruin a batch.


4. Coffee Cups

coffee cups

They may look like paper, but they ain’t. Coffee cups are lined with a fine film of polyethylene — p as in plastic — which, frustratingly, is considered garbage to waste management. An environmental group actually stuck electronic trackers to Starbucks cups in Denver, and traced them to a landfill. And they’re probably contaminating the rest of the cardboard boxes you painstakingly folded and recycled. Convenient as coffee cups may be, try taking your coffee “for here” or bring your own mug. 


5. Dirty Diapers


A parent’s best friend, the planet’s worst enemy, a disposable diaper outlives the baby wearing it for more than five generations. And seeing as using less diapers is never an option, the only real way to go around this is by using biodegradable brands and then composting them, or just opting for the reusable cloth kind.


6. Greasy Pizza Boxes


Guilty. As. Charged. If you ordered that double cheesy goodness, chances are the oil has already seeped through the cardboard before it could reach your front door. A bit of grease is ok, but any more and it becomes impossible to separate the oil from the fibre, making the material non-recyclable. Here’s a tip: rip off the non-oily cardboard cover to recycle, and throw out the greasy base. 


The last thing we wish to do is to discourage you from recycling. You can check with your local municipality to find out what you can and cannot recycle.

If we do something, let’s do it right. Share this with your friends so we can all do our part.



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