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Recycling Ends Up As Landfill

Posted on 18th May 2017

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This news story from the BBC highlights a problem that has bothered me for quite a while: much of our recycling, separated at home, ends up as landfill because of the mixture of materials in each article.

Many items which we put into recycling bins are not able to be recycled, and are instead dumped into landfill sites, or (as with much of the garbage and recyclables in Munich) incinerated. Examples include:

  • Pringles containers (containing cardboard, metal, aluminium foil and plastic).
  • Many kinds of plastic bottles - those containing multiple kinds of plastic.
  • Cleaning spray bottles - not only a mix of plastic, but also a metal spring.
  • Foil (aluminium) and plastic pill packs (very popular in Germany - I never know whether to recycle them as plastic or metal, or put them in the normal garbage).
  • Containers for whiskey bottles, which usually contain cardboard and metal.
  • Black plastic trays for meat (the black colour makes the meat look redder) - black plastic is useless for recycling.
  • The plastic sealing on wine bottles - mostly plastic, but often with a small aluminium foil disc over the top of the cork, which is very hard to separate.

On top of that, expanded polystyrene is still widely used in packaging, as trays for meat, and as shock-absorbing packing for fragile goods like PCs. Expanded polystyrene cannot be recycled, although many people seem ignorant of this and put it into the plastic recycling. There are perfectly adequate and cheap alternative materials for all these purposes (for example those sheets of plastic bubble-wrap).

Another thing that came to light a few years ago is that much of the paper and cardboard which we recycle is put into landfill or incinerated, because the price for recycled paper is so low that it is often not financially viable to recycle it.

I really think that industry needs to try harder to make sure that their packaging is easily recyclable. Clear instructions on the packaging about what it is (and thus which bin to put it in) would also be a great benefit, since many people have difficulty identifying what material some items are.