Our waste streams are too contaminated, so it’s hard to pick out recyclables from non-recyclables. In the U.S only, the average recycling contamination rate is 25%, which means that 1 out of 4 items are disposed of incorrectly on average.
And while an estimated 75% of the waste is recyclable, about only 34% is actually recycled. In Japan, even though it is reported that 84% of the collected plastics get recycled, about 73% of that actually gets burned, while only 23% is recycled materially and 4 percent is recycled chemically. And it’s not just Japan and the U.S; (plastic) waste collected for “recycling” is mostly sent to landfill, burned or exported to other countries, releasing toxins and plastics into the environment.
One of the reasons for waste contamination is that we are not as good at separating our waste as we may think. The sorting rules are different per area and often confusing, and sometimes it’s unclear under which category a certain piece of waste falls, creating room for mistakes. Have you ever had the problem where you weren’t sure which bin your thrash should go into? Or maybe you did throw it away confidently, but how sure can you be that you used the correct bin? After all, as mentioned before, 1 out of 4 items are disposed of incorrectly in the U.S.
Another reason is the way we collect waste. In most countries, we use single- or dual-stream instead of multi-stream (that is, more than two) waste collection. Single stream means that everything is put together on one big pile for it to get sorted out later, dual stream means that we separate into two categories etc. The reason for this is convenience; it is generally understood that single-stream collection achieves higher participation and thus recycling rates, because people are more likely to participate if it is easy. However, the downside is contamination and reduced awareness, which are the problems we are dealing with now. Many people seem to think that everything will magically work out after they dispose of their waste into the bin-that-takes-all, but that’s far from true.
As for contamination, you can probably imagine that the less we pre-sort our waste, the more chaotic the whole pile becomes and the more difficult it is to separate out different types of waste later. Why would we pile everything up and sort it out later -making it more difficult because it’s all mixed-, while we can also separate correctly from the start? Multi-stream collection asks for more effort from the disposers, but it has become a necessary effort now to protect our Earth. In order to battle waste contamination, we have to sort better and preferably as finely and detailed as possible. Also while we’re at it, we should stop believing that others will take care of our garbage and start taking matters into our own hands.
Interested in knowing how? Read more about our product here!