A single half-empty soda bottle can contaminate an entire load of recyclable plastic at the processing plant, sending thousands of pounds to the landfill instead of being recycled.
While a little bit of leftover food can seem harmless, mould and bacteria can feed on the debris, multiplying as the recyclables sit in the hot sun on the way from your curb to the recycling center.
Recycling companies do wash the items, but many sort the incoming material according to its cleanliness. So the dirtier the plastic is, the less valuable it is to recycle since it takes more energy (a thorough cleaning can be expensive) to convert it into a usable material.
If the material is dirty enough, it’s not worth the cost.
Waste Management, the largest residential recycler in North America, suggests you wash out everything you want to recycle to prevent items from going in the trash instead.
This means rinsing out glass, plastic and metals, and making sure any food scraps aren’t left inside your cardboard containers. This doesn’t mean you need to scrape every last bit of Nutella out of the jar, but a quick rinse can go a long way.
Each municipality has different rules on what kinds of plastic and cardboard you can recycle, but Waste Management suggests a simple rule is that “bottles, jars, and jugs” are generally accepted in most places.
Every year in the US, more than 2.4 billion pounds of plastic are recycled — and that number could probably be a lot higher if people cleaned up what they tried to recycle.
NOW WATCH: We asked an exercise scientist how long it takes to get out of shape — and the answer was surprising
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.