Why Is Waste Sorting Important When Recycling & Easy Guide to Sorting Your Waste at Home
Since the average person produces around 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms) of waste per day – which equals nearly a ton of waste per year (1,6 tons, respectively) – it is extremely important to recycle as much as possible. It costs a lot of resources, energy, time, and effort to create new products continually, especially when they could be reused instead of being placed in landfill .
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 75 percent of the American household waste stream could be recycled. In 2017, only around 35 percent of the household waste was either recycled or composted, leaving over 50 percent of the waste going to landfills and 12 percent to incinerators .
There is obviously huge room for improvement, and it starts with you!
We all agree that we should recycle more – at home, in the office or when out and about. But for materials to be actually recycled, they first need to find their way to the right waste stream to be collected and taken to the right place for recycling. This is what the process of waste sorting allows us to do.
Why is it important to sort waste for recycling?
The materials which can be recycled range from paper and cardboard, to various plastic and metal containers, to things like batteries or electronics. Each type of waste needs to be sorted differently and disposed of in a certain way, depending on where you live and on the recycling rules of the region.
Unfortunately, in some places, recycling may be non-existent. If you live in a place with compromised waste recycling infrastructure like this, you should still consider sorting your household waste and delivering it to the closest recycling plant yourself if that is within your possibilities.
For effective recycling we need effective sorting – and this needs to happen first, in our own home and second, in dedicated sorting plants to which waste collected from our doorstep and communal points is taken.
When you put a plastic bottle in the right recycling bag or bin, you are helping sort recyclables so that the right material can be fed into the right recycling process. If sorting does not happen, a lot of recyclable materials can end up in landfills or be incinerated, and valuable resources lost from our economy.
Remember: sorting at home is the first step towards recycling.
In Europe, 6 of the 16 tons of material used per person per year becomes waste. Despite improvements in the waste management system, the European economy is still losing a significant amount of potential ‘secondary raw materials’ that can be recycled from our waste.
So, we need to take sorting seriously if we are to minimize the amount of recyclable material that does not end up being recycled despite provisions set up already by governments.
What complicates things is that collection systems can be very different, and this requires the consumer to sort waste in different ways from country to country but sometimes also from city to city.
For instance, in Brussels (Belgium) consumers put plastic packaging, cans and beverage cartons in blue bags designated for recyclable packaging; paper in yellow bags for recycling; and glass needs to be taken to specific collection bins. Somewhat differently, in Vienna (Austria), citizens can expect their paper, metal, glass and plastic to be separately collected in different weeks of the year.
This means that citizens need to be aware of their local collection system to be able to sort their recyclables at home and limit the amount of potentially recyclable materials that accidentally end up going for landfill or incineration.
Further sorting of household recyclables
Once recyclable materials are collected from your doorstep or communal bins, they are further sorted in specialized facilities which ensure the quality of the recycling process. This is where different sorting techniques come into play.
Traditionally, sorting has been done either manually with workers sorting what can be recycled and picking out the materials to be discarded, or mechanically. Today, however, sophisticated sorting technologies are being developed in order to speed up the process of sorting but to also yield better results.
Exciting technologies using magnets or optical systems are being used to effectively sort materials so more of it can be recycled. Given the increased need to minimizing our waste across Europe, it is estimated that the plastics sorting and recycling sector will see a 25 percent growth which translates to the development of about 300 plants for sorting and recycling by 2025 .
Easy guide to know how to sort your waste at home
Learn to how to sort your household waste properly, recycle everything that can be recycled, and save the environment and non-renewable resources one piece of trash at a time.
Unfortunately, Americans throw away around 74 percent of perfectly recyclable glass bottles and jars every year. This leads to an estimated 7 million tons of glass going to landfills every single year !
By separating your glass waste from the rest of your waste stream, you will be doing your bit for the environment and ensuring that you don’t contribute more to landfill than you need to.
Before recycling glass jars or bottles you should rinse them and remove the lid (which can be placed in either the metal or plastic stream depending on what it is made of). I some places, you will be required to separate different colored glasses to make the recycling process easier.
Metals and plastic
Metal and plastic packaging, including drink or food cartons are often recycled together.
They should be clean, free of excessive contaminants, oils, or greases, and should conform to the recycling regulations of your region.
Some plastics can be recycled successfully. Other cannot and should be included in the general waste stream. You need to check the recycling rules of your country or city.
Paper and cardboard
Paper and paper derivatives are among the easiest materials to recycle.
They should be sorted into their own bin. When sorting paper from the rest of your waste stream, ensure that you don’t accidentally include plastic packaging, stickers, or cartons which have excessive plastic or metal lining.
Nearly every electronic product ever produced could and should be recycled.
In many countries, you can drop off your used electronics at any shop selling similar products. In other places are dedicated depos or collection centers where they will recycle anything that is broken or not working and sell or give away things that still are.
For more options, check our article on electronic waste recycling where we describe in detail what step you should take to properly dispose off your electronics and what are the various options to do it.
Organic, biodegradable waste
Most organic waste can be composted, and should definitely be removed from your waste stream. If you have yard space or a large balcony, then you can create a compost bin to break down all your food waste into high-quality fertilizer.
Alternatively, you can invest in a worm farm – which can sit in the closet or the corner of a room – that will produce worm juice which you can sell.