Where Does Recycling Go When It Can’t Be Recycled?

Where does recycling go, and how do you know everything you throw in the bin goes where it should? This hot topic came about as a local paper indicated something concerning. In some circumstances, consumer waste thrown into single-stream bins didn’t find new life as a post-consumer product. This begs the question, where did it go?

Some actually end up in a landfill and that certainly sounds alarming — perhaps angering at first. The reaction wasn’t great on social media as well, but there’s a really simple answer.

Filling in for a regular host on WHO Radio this week I tackled a common misunderstanding many consumers have about the recycling industry. It all came about from an article in The Des Moines Register about an Iowa recycling company that was putting waste Iowans had sorted into the landfill. Certainly this is alarming, right?

Where does recycling go?

While the article certainly wasn’t wrong, it didn’t address a few very important key facts. Specifically, contamination challenges and how the recycling industry generally works. What most don’t understand is this: recycling companies can’t accept your waste or their “raw” material if no one is willing to buy it. Making matters more challenging in recent years, companies are also have a tougher time accepting contamination.

Recent federal law changes have made recycling companies jobs more difficult, trickling down from a change in the Chinese market for US waste. In the past, the Chinese purchased a lot of our potential post-consumer waste, accepting of higher contamination levels. (Bulk that has the wrong mix or contains non-recyclable materials.) But this isn’t the case anymore.

The Chinese became more strict in their purchasing of US waste and in that change, US recycling companies had to become strict as well. We can’t change that, but what we can change is the contamination rates, and I asked an expert how to do that.

Michael McCoy

I spoke with Michael McCoy, executive director of Metro Waste Authority, who explained how the industry works and how consumers can help by doing a better job throwing only recyclables away and not their trash. Believe it or not, consumers are still pretty poor at sorting. This is why McCoy and his team have made it easy.

If you want a really easy way to determine what should be recycled and what should be tossed in the trash bin. MWA has set up a great resource: WhereItShouldGo.com


Listen to the interview with Michael McCoy of Metro Waste Authority


Content Strategy & Communications

Justin Brady is a communications and content strategy pro. If you want to elevate your brand on the national stage, get placed in top publications and draw people to your website hire him!



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