Shavati Karki-Pearl: Some myths about recycling

Recycling used to be simple, or at least it seemed to be the case. If a material had a recycling symbol on it, you threw it in the recycling cart. Unfortunately, the chasing arrows can no longer be used as the barometer in deciding if something is recyclable or not.

It’s complicated.

Advancements in the development of different plastic materials, restrictions on what type of materials processors are now accepting, and wishful marketing have made recycling more difficult and the chasing arrows an almost useless tool in deciding if something is recyclable or not.

Those arrows are just one of the many myths about recycling that circulate in communities throughout the country. We hope to dispel some of those myths in this article.

Myth: Materials I place in the recycling cart are not being recycled.

Fact: If recycling materials are not contaminated, they are shipped to WM’s Sacramento Recycling and Transfer Station, where they are processed, packaged and shipped to processors throughout North America.

Myth: It doesn’t matter what I place in the recycling cart, it all gets sorted anyway.

Fact: The recycling cart isn’t a magic elixir that can save the world from waste. Not every item you place in your cart can be recycled and in fact some materials could prevent otherwise recyclable items from being given a second life. If materials are contaminated with food or liquids, they can no longer be recycled. For example, paper that is drenched by water left in a plastic bottle.

Similarly, certain items like plastic bags or plastic film cannot be processed in the machinery used by curbside collection companies like Waste Management. The bags and film tangle in the sorting machinery, causing delays and raising costs for everyone.

Making sure you place the correct materials in the correct cart will ensure recyclable materials are processed efficiently and can be sent to a processor to complete the circle.

Myth: When in doubt, throw it out.

Fact: While this is an easy phrase to remember and will prevent the contamination of recyclable materials, it is not a universal rule. There are some items that cannot be placed in the trash. These items are called household hazardous waste and include materials such as batteries, light bulbs, paints, pesticides, herbicides, propane tanks and electronic equipment. Household hazardous waste must be disposed at a authorized location like the McCourtney Road Transfer Station.

Myth: Waste Management is making it harder by having three carts instead of just one like some communities.

Fact: Using three carts to separate trash, recyclables and yard debris is better for the environment and has proven to be a more beneficial in terms of making sure recyclable and organic materials can be repurposed.

When using a one-cart system, countless recyclable objects are contaminated and cannot be resold to manufacturers to be repurposed to make other items. It’s similar to the reason why contaminated recycling carts can ruin a load of recyclables, having a one-cart system to collect all materials ruins otherwise recyclable materials.

Likewise, yard debris can easy be contaminated by trash, making that material unsuitable for composting. Source separation has proven to be the best method to ensure that recycling and yard debris can be repurposed.

These are just some of the myths we hear in the community and beyond. If you have any other questions please visit or

Shavati Karki-Pearl is the public sector manager for Waste Management in Nevada County. Shavati works closely with Nevada County and the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City to provide sustainable solutions to trash, recycling and organics collections and disposal.



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