This may sound like a weird question, but the other night I was about to throw away a plastic package which didn't have any recycling information on it, and I hesitated before throwing it in the waste bin and thought to myself "Should I chuck it in the recycling bin and hope for the best or destine this little package for the landfill?"

What has a bigger environmental impact?

  • attempting to recycle an unrecyclable item or;
  • putting a recyclable item in the landfill?
  • Hello and welcome! Based on the answers so far it would appear that your location makes a big difference. For which country are you asking this question? – LShaver Nov 2 at 21:07
  • @paparazzo because without any marking they don't know whether it is recyclable (at least according to his local recycling rules). – Nick C Nov 3 at 15:29
  • @NickC I read "putting a recyclable item in the landfill" as they know. – paparazzo Nov 3 at 15:32
  • Tip: don't rely on the recycling information only. With some education you can reasonably judge plastics yourself (Worth another question?) – Jan Doggen Nov 6 at 10:57
up vote 10 down vote accepted

It may depend on your local rules, but here it's certainly better to put a recyclable thing in the bin than a non-recyclable thing in the recycling. That is, if your council doesn't have any sorting facilities: if they deem the recycling to be 'contaminated', they'll send the whole load to the incinerator - whereas if you put it in the normal rubbish, it's just that one item that's wasted.

This will vary in areas where the recycable materials are sorted: there the 'unwanted' items are picked out (often by humans) and discarded. You then assume that they will know what you are unsure about.

Most recycling symbols are protected and not used by the producers of packaging due to the licensing fees to be paid or other conditions to be followed. In Germany the "Green Point" was used to finance separation and recycling facilities. Since 2009 packages from companies participating do no longer need to carry the symbol to participate in the system. Since then all plastic and recyclable goods, even when they are not marked with a recycling symbol, can be put into the recycling bins. I guess that after having built they now need more input so that I would not hesitate to practice that in other countries likewise.

  • I don’t see how this is answer to the question posed. – AllInOne Nov 3 at 14:13
  • I referred to: "... plastic package which didn't have any recycling information on it ..." in the origin question. So I understood that the question was, "must plastic be marked with information or labels to be recyclable or being allowed to enter recycle bins?" In Germany they cancelled this kind of restriction or hesitation. – Salt Nov 4 at 16:51
  • Ah I see. Thank you for clarifying! – AllInOne Nov 4 at 18:31

Some places, like Roseville, California, handle their own sorting. Everything gets put into one bin and a huge machine separates stuff out using magnets and shredders and stuff.

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