Shavati Karki-Pearl: Some Recycling Myths

It used to be that recycling was simple, or so it seemed. If a material had a recycling symbol on it, you threw it in the recycling basket. Unfortunately, chase arrows can no longer be used as a barometer to decide whether something is recyclable or not.

It is complicated.

Advances in the development of different plastic materials, restrictions on the type of materials processors now accept, and godless marketing have made recycling more difficult and arrow hunting an almost useless tool in deciding whether something is recyclable or not. .

These arrows are just one of many recycling myths circulating in communities across the country. We hope to dispel some of these myths in this article.

Myth: The materials I put in the recycling basket are not recycled.

Fact: If the 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 across North America.

Myth: No matter what I put in the recycling basket, it’s all sorted anyway.

Reality: The recycling cart is not a magical elixir that can save the world from waste. Not all items you place in your shopping cart can be recycled, and in fact some materials could prevent otherwise recyclable items from getting a second life. If the materials are contaminated with food or liquids, they can no longer be recycled. For example, water-soaked paper left in a plastic bottle.

Likewise, certain items such as plastic bags or plastic films cannot be processed in the machines used by selective collection companies such as Waste Management. Bags and films get tangled in sorting machines, causing delays and increasing costs for everyone.

Making sure you put the right materials in the right cart will ensure that recyclable materials are processed efficiently and can be sent to a processor to close the loop.

Myth: When in doubt, throw it out.

Fact: Although this is an easy phrase to remember and will prevent contamination of recyclable materials, it is not a universal rule. Some items cannot be thrown 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 of at an authorized location such as the McCourtney Road transfer station.

Myth: Waste Management makes things 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 more beneficial in terms of ensuring that recyclable and organic materials can be reused.

When using a single cart system, countless recyclable items become contaminated and cannot be resold to manufacturers to be reused to make other items. This is similar to why contaminated recycling carts can ruin a load of recyclables, having a single cart system to collect all materials ruins otherwise recyclable materials.

Likewise, yard debris can easily become contaminated with trash, making this material unsuitable for composting. Source separation has proven to be the best method to ensure that recycling and yard debris can be reused.

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

Shavati Karki-Pearl is the public sector lead 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 for the collection and disposal of trash, recycling, and organics.