Greenpeace’s Recycling Report: What does it mean for you?

“Recyclable” doesn’t mean what they want you to believe it means

Finally we have a report that we’ve all been waiting for! GreenPeace recently released a high-profile report that demonstrates how recycling in the US is not working. Many of you who are familiar with recycling and its issues might be tempted to say “we’ve know this, there’s nothing new here.” And there is. GreenPeace for the first time is casting light on what happens to items we all think is recyclable. Bottomline is in the US the only plastics that are even likely to get recycled are number 1 and number 2 types. The ones that say #3 on them, or the ones that are 5s (yogurt containers) or the 6s (polystyrene) and 7s (mixed plastic types — the black take-out food containers) are not recyclable nor recycled in the US. Most end up in landfill, and/or in the environment, likely the Ocean.

What does it all mean?

Don’t believe the “recyclable” label on your container. As Tom Szaky puts it — everything is recyclable — the question is — can it be recycled where you are?

So then, what does this mean for people? Afterall, we all want to do what’s best for the environment — and now we’re all confused. Should we not recycle anything? Well if we don’t recycle anything, then don’t they all become a problem? And isn’t everything sold in some sort of plastic? Are we not supposed to buy anything? It’s overwhelming.

Is it even worth recycling?

This is always a yes. For the product that you just used, the question about whether it should be manufactured or not is past. It’s in your hands, and you’re the one deciding whether it will threaten wildlife and nature or be placed back into circulation. The products you use all have a value — remember, you paid to use it. The value is not diminished after it serves its few minute purpose for you. The value that was created once the finite resource was extracted from earth is still inherent in that product — it just has to be reclaimed and repurposed. It’s no less valuable, it just wont hold the same water anymore, but it can still hold another type of drink or product. Reclaiming the value from the resources we already have in our country, and in our hands, is one of the best ways to benefit our economy.

If anything the report actually makes the case about how recycling is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars each year. We’re wasting perfectly good resources that are ours, and literally throwing away money.

What do I recycle?

Water bottles, liquid containers, clear clamshells, clear and flexible packaging materials. Plastic bags at the appropriate stores.

What don’t I recycle?

Any single-use cups, plates, forks, spoons, etc. Caps on top of the water bottles and liquid containers. Any black container used for take-out. Anything with any type of food residue on it. Yogurt containers — none of those yogurt containers are recyclable in the US market! Plastic bags do not go into curbside recycling, they actually cause more problems.

How do I know if it’s recyclable where I live?

Call your municipality. WHAT is recyclable and why are others not recyclable? Get involved in what’s happening in your community and what your city is charging you for and then what are they actually doing with that?

Call your Material Recovery Facility — they will give you a much better and clear explanation about what is and is not recyclable through them, especially for your municipality. It all depends on the contract your municipality holds with the MRFs and if the contract doesn’t cover an item, then the MRF doesn’t recycle them if they come in the truck from your municipality. It’s crazy, yes, and yes that’s what happens most of the time. Taking the course of action back to calling your municipality and requesting them to recycle items, especially since they are charging residents through taxes.

Avoid when you can

Still- it is overwhelming. Once you have a plastic in your hand — figuring out what to do with it. So to help with that, at the risk of repeating my previous posts: Here’s a way to simplify. First of all, you aren’t meant to carry the world’s problems on your shoulders. You do what you can. You don’t have to feel guilty when you don’t have a solution. The caveat that follows this is: You should avoid what you can. If you don’t really need another <insert item of choice> that is packed in another plastic that is locked in a plastic box, filled with plastic air pillows(!!) don’t buy it. Instead go for one that has no packaging or has something other than plastic.


Then, definitely use your reusables — bottle, cup and cutlery set is something I always have with me. Perhaps not what you want to hear — but imagine that every year you can keep about 1000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream and the environment just by carrying a reusable one. And in those occasions that you forget them, instead of punishing yourself by denying that cup of water — write to the owner of the establishment/organization that is providing those cups and voice your concern. Whether it’s at a stadium, bar, your office building or your residential building they all count. Invite others to do the same. The main reason corporations are now paying attention is because people have voiced their concern and have spoken with their wallets. The message is clear — people DO care what happens to the products they use after they’re done with them.

Are the recycling companies and manufacturers off the hook?

Not at all! Hopefully this report helps manufacturers, cities, and recyclers realize that the status quo no longer cuts it. People are realizing what hasn’t been working and we’re all asking for solutions. It’s no longer good enough to stand on the sidelines and just say “this is what it is” as decades past. The public is expecting them to step up and actually deliver on their responsibilities.


It’s easiest to avoid plastics as much as possible, until the manufacturers and municipalities can actually sort this mess out and truly make the process easy for people. Afterall, you pay for these services in your city/property taxes and then the bulk of the work falls on your shoulders, and the government and manufacturers can’t even give you a clear message. However, when you really can’t avoid plastics, especially the non-single use items — if it’s clear and has a #1 or #2 marked on it, and you know your municipality recycles that item — you should recycle. Otherwise, throw it in the trash.

People need to be more cognizant and practice better recycling habits, while manufacturers and governments need to provide the services residents are paying for in a straight-forward way. There’s no reason for it to be so complicated.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, please let me know by clicking the “applaud” button below and also following!

Ocean Actionist. Circular Economy Consultant. Reuse and Plastic recycling SME. Entrepreneur. Speaker. Underwater Photographer. NYC.

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