To the average person, recycling may seem like a simple, convenient way to make waste materials suitable for reuse. However, it is more than just placing glass, paper, and plastic into a blue bin; recycling rules differ in every municipality, which indeed makes people perplexed. In consideration of the varying rules in recycling, it is important to recycle in the right way to prevent materials ending up in the wrong bin. 

Waste material other than plastic is frequently received by local recycling centers to be recycled. According to Kara Napolitano, the education and outreach coordinator at Sims Municipal Recycling, the company currently “sorts merely 17% of the plastic in New York.” Unfortunately, the remaining 83% ends up misplaced in the streets, landfills, and ocean due to citizens placing certain plastic material in the wrong waste bin. 

One of the items that gets recycled incorrectly is the plastic bag, mostly used for stuffing groceries or the clothes you bought an hour ago. Other similar bags include newspaper delivery bags, dry cleaning wraps, bread bags, zipper bags, and shipping packaging. They are made out of polyethylene, a prominent material in plastic bags, meaning that they are prohibited in the blue bin. 

According to Napolitano, “Plastic bags are unrecyclable in the local recycling centers because different types of plastic are layered on top of each other.” 
Furthermore, the thin and flexible material can clog up the machinery by creating a ball of waste. A crane is required to remove it, delaying the recycling process. Such materials are also likely to travel with the wind, potentially bringing them to where they are commonly found: water sources, animal habitats, and beaches. 

A different process is required for sanitary termination as plastic bags are difficult to sort and clean. Instead of tossing the plastic bags into recycling bins, other retailers like Wegmans or local supermarkets offer plastic-bag drop-offs that receive materials and send them to special facilities for recycling. Once they are collected, they are ground into flakes, then pellets, which are used to make fences, playground equipment, and new plastic for companies to package their food. Other commonly mistaken items for recycle include bubble wrap, disposable cups, styrofoam, and mirrors, which should be either placed in the trash or sent to special facilities.  

“As a result of China’s waste import restrictions in 2017 banning a variety of recyclable material that had been previously accepted for processing, we need to educate the public how to recycle properly,” declares David Biderman, the executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America. Specifically, students need further education because they are the ones who will lead the future with their endeavors in saving Earth from perilous danger.  

The Recycling Education Center at Sims Municipal Recycling provides the students in New York with a platform to learn about how New York City’s recyclables are processed. Offering both school and college tours, students can enjoy a synergistic presentation and interact with machinery from the sorting system. Q&As are also available by one of the Sims recycling experts leading the tour. 

“When you educate kids, when they become adults, they will know the environment is important,” Shook said. “We don’t get a second chance with Earth. This is it. We’ve got to save it for future generations.”