Published: April 26, 2022 By

The flow of online content exposed to us every day can be overwhelming. As a result, we are obliged to differentiate between what is real and what is fake in the media.

Origin of the Myth

It is not always easy to tell when a company or website is being completely transparent; this is often because decision-makers in some companies see no issue when it comes to deceiving consumers in the name of profit. With one click, a single site can users across the entire internet. Opinions inevitably form based on what we see and can be altered several times along the way. It is my hope that by writing this article I can outline the truth about common myths spread around the media relating to recycling processes. 


The Waste Crisis

One thing we can all agree on is that we produce trash and a lot of it. Some of that trash goes into giant landfills, but most ends up in waterways and eventually into oceans where mammoth garbage islands form. An estimated 30% of food scraps and yard waste of what could have been composted, and 55% of what could have been recycled end up in landfills. The ideal way to reduce trash is to follow a zero-waste lifestyle and quit using disposables altogether; however, the next step is to reuse what we can from these disposables. The effectiveness of recycling has been questioned for many different reasons over the past couple of years. I will address some of the most common concerns in the rest of this article.

Myth 1: Recycling does not save energy

  • The process of manufacturing raw aluminum is a high-energy process that uses heat to isolate a mineral called bauxite3 until the substance is the right consistency to make aluminum cans and foils. The best thing about these aluminum cans is that they are recycled indefinitely through a simple cleaning and remelting operation. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy needed to make a can from scratch.

  • Recycling paper saves about 60% of the energy needed to make new paper. Trees are essential for lowering our carbon dioxide levels and sustaining all living things. Recycling a single ton of paper can save 17 trees and diminish the water waste from the manufacturing process. 

  • Recycling glass only saves about ⅓ of the energy due to the immensely high temperature required to re-melt the substance. However, reusing glass eliminates the need to extract new minerals from the Earth. Limestone, a mineral that requires energy and fossil fuels to extract, takes millions of years to form, making it a nonrenewable energy source.

Myth 2: Everything will decompose overtime

Landfills are not a long-term fix

  • Scientists predict severe landfill leaks within the next 10 years. Due to high quantities of compost and trash mixed, Methane has been brewing in the pits for decades. Methane is extremely toxic to our atmosphere - when runoffs happen, climate-altering amounts of methane alongside polluting waste will be released into the environment.

  • The USEPA predicts that in no more than 30 years ALL landfills will eventually leak out.

Compostables in a Landfill:

  • Throwing food scraps into the trash vs throwing them in the compost produce two very different results:

  • In landfills, heaps of waste are piled upon each other frequently. When compostable materials are smothered, they no longer have room to “breath” hindering their ability to break down.

  • The term anaerobic composting refers to the lack of oxygen these landfills have. Without oxygen, the insides of these mass trash piles become incredibly hot causing a building up and eventual release of methane.

  • Methane is affecting our environment 28-36 times worse than co2 is, and landfills are the third-largest methane producer in the USA.


  • Since 1950, 9 billion tons of (poly)ethylene/methylene has been produced to fit the needs of the world. It's fair to say that we are in a plastic craze. In only the past thirteen years, over half of those 9 billion tons were manufactured, distributed, and then thrown out onto our planet.  

  • Accumulations from discarded single-use plastics have caused gigantic buildups in the natural environment.

  • Plastics do not decompose. Instead, they break down into pieces that get smaller and smaller until they need to be seen with a high-powered microscope. These are called microplastics (MPs) and they can be found practically everywhere including inside our bodies.

  • Most recently, MPs have been found in indoor air where they are inhaled by humans through the respiratory system. A study found that at an average reported air concentration of 9.8 MPs/m3 (45) and an inhalation rate of 15 m3/day, annual inhalation exposure averaged 53,700 particles per person in one study.

  • Additionally, microplastics are found in foods such as fish, honey, and bottled water. They are also found and released through many of our cosmetics and creams. As for laundry, “Over 700,000 microfibers were found to be released from a 6-kg wash load of acrylic fabric and up to 13 million microfibers from polyester fabric in the first wash cycle”

Myth 3: A product that is labeled “natural” or “eco friendly” means it is environmentally friendly

This ties into greenwashing: when a company purposely deceives the consumer with misleading information, images, or diction that claims the product to be good for the environment when it is not.

  • Plastic water bottle companies are a prime example of greenwashing. They advertise nature in the advertisements using words such as “fresh” or “natural." In reality, plastic bottle manufacturers are making the problem worse by polluting and depleting viable water sources and adding to the trash problem.

  • Another less obvious example is fake green stickers; the most common ones say “eco-friendly” or “x% biodegradable". The eco-friendly sticklers do not mean anything when it comes to helping the environment. Companies that have used these stickers have huge manufacturing and shipping carbon emissions they fail to mention when advertising their products.

  • If there is a sticker claiming the item to be 95% biodegradable, that product is 100% not biodegradable. The problem created by this is that consumers unknowingly contribute to contamination in recycling plants.

Myth 4: The recyclable symbol means a product is recyclable

  • The number inside the recycle symbol on plastic items  is a resin identification code that tells what type of plastic the item is made of

  • To know if it is recyclable, check in with your local recycling center or waste hauler to see the current acceptable types of plastic for recycling in your area

  • Lots of plastics are NOT recyclable, even if they have the recycle symbol on them

Myth 5: Compostable plastics can be recycled

  • Compostable plastics are made of renewable materials such as corn, starches, cellulose, water, and biomass. Natural-based ingredients are biodegradable and can break down when processed correctly at industrial composting facilities. 

  • Biobased plastics melt at a different temperature than petroleum-based plastics. When compostable plastics are combined with recyclable plastics, the melting process becomes contaminated and that batch of plastics cannot be used.

  • Composting plastics have potential but only if the individual cares about their action. Thoughtful separation of compostables and recyclables only takes a few extra seconds and makes a big difference.






Myth 6: Recycling does not make economic sense

  • Most places in the USA operate under a single-stream recycling system. All recyclables are tossed into a single bin and then sent to a sorting facility that redistributes recyclables to companies for a fee.

  • Recycling facilities create green-jobs and bring more money into the economy while keeping our landfills for non-recyclable materials only. The more we recycle the less space landfills take up. 

  • Bottle Bill States - get money back when you recycle certain products (glass jars, community can also use that money. Ex: Aluminum cans

  • Recyclables contribute to the global economy. They are bought and sold through global markets and have value because

  • Costs more money to make new products from virgin resources as opposed to simply reprocessing and cleaning already made products. 

  • Money to operate machines, paying for fuels for transportation, material extraction, intensive/ dangerous labor costs more than labor involved in the recycling process

Myth 7: Only cans and bottles can be recycled

  • In Boulder County:

  • Newspaper, books (no plastic cover), and magazines

  • Any cardboard not coated in plastic such as tissue boxes and cereal boxes

  • Aluminum cans and foil

  • Glass bottles

  • Plastic shampoo bottles and laundry detergent bottles

  • Plastic #5 souvenir cups

…can all be recycled. For a complete list of items that are and are not recyclable and compostable click here. All it takes to educate ourselves on proper recycling/ composting is a google search. It takes only a few seconds to make a choice that is better for ourselves and the planet. You can do this by looking up lists of what is recyclable/ compostable

  • Hard to recycle items include: Bike parts, Electronics, Styrofoam, Plastic Bags, etc

For more information on how to recycle these items click here






Myth 8: Recycling all ends up in the landfill

  • In some towns, there is no market for reselling certain materials, so it became cheaper to throw everything into landfills; however, this is not the case in the majority of cities.

  • The US used to sell recyclables to China, but since rates of contamination of recyclables grew, China implemented a ban on all recyclables sent to them from the USA

  • This ended up being a good thing for the US. Since the ban, efforts have been made by the USA to expand recycling programs in order to reduce contamination

    •  Improving sorting and cleaning processes for down streamed recycling products

    • Creating more domestic opportunities for recycled materials such as paper recycling plants, metal smelting facilities, plastic and glass production, etc.

  • Recycling is a valuable resource that has monetary value, so it does not make sense to throw it in a landfill.  Especially for high value items like aluminum, cardboard, and office paper.

  • Boulder and the Front Range cities have strong domestic markets and ensure most recyclable items that get put in your curbside bin actually get turned into new products!