Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a Tenth Grader?

Test your recycling knowledge with The Conscious Shopper

My mom runs the virtual lab at a high school (that's the computer lab where students can take online classes), and she sent me the following email today:
I've got a student assignment where they have a list of products that can be recycled and have to tell what those products can be recycled into. I've spent a half hour on google and can't find a good website. I'd like one that covers most of the products. Know any? The products are--food waste, yard waste, plastic, metal, glass, paper, and cardboard.
I sent back a quick reply and then started thinking...Do I know what those products are recycled into?

So here's a little quiz for you...Do you know what happens to your recycling after you drag your blue bin to the curb?

Take a mental note of your answers and then read on to learn all sorts of interesting facts about recycling, courtesy of (the website I sent to my mom).

Photo courtesy of


Consider yourself lucky if you live in a city that has a curbside composting program. Almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste generated in America comes from food scraps, and less than 3 percent of that is recovered and composted, according to the EPA.


Most local governments have instituted yard waste collection and drop-off points. Remember though that the most energy efficient way to recycle your yard waste is to set up your own backyard compost system and use the yard waste in your own yard.


Most curbside recycling programs in the U.S. only collect plastic bottles because they are the easiest type of plastic to recycle, but grocery stores commonly have recycling stations for plastic bags. Recycled plastic is rarely turned back into a plastic bottle or bag - most often it becomes composite lumber, a mixture of plastic and sawdust, which is used to make things like benches and decking.

Producing plastics from recycled material uses 66% less energy than making plastics from virgin material, but only 1% of all plastics are recycled.


Most curbside recycling programs collect aluminum and steel cans. Recycling aluminum uses 95% less energy than making cans from virgin materials, and recycling steel uses 75% less energy.

Aluminum cans are highly recyclable - it takes as little as 60 days to turn a used can into a new aluminum can. Steel is also a valuable and highly recyclable material because it doesn't decrease in quality no matter how many times it's recycled. Almost all steel products produced today contain some percentage of recycled content.


Curbside recycling programs only take glass bottles, but most will take bottles of any color. Like aluminum and steel, it's a valuable recyclable material because it's infinitely recyclable, doesn't lose its quality, and has a turnaround time of about 30 days. Plus, it takes 40% less energy to make glass products with recycled material than with only raw materials.


Most curbside recycling programs have extensive mixed paper collection including newspaper, mail, printer paper, cardboard, and paperboard - as long as it's not contaminated with food or oil. Paper recycling uses 60 percent less energy than paper made from all virgin material.


Note that every city has its own recycling guidelines, and one wrong item can contaminate a whole batch, making all of those collected items useless. Check your city's website for information about what's recyclable in your area.

And please remember that recycling is the last step and should only be considered after you have REDUCED and REUSED.


Alison said...

Excellent post! I've got to plug my favorite local organization (that taught me to recycle as a kid) and that helps communities around our state (and maybe even the country) set up recycling and zero waste programs: Ecocycle

Their website is not perfect, but if you wander around it for a while you can find answers to almost anything. And if you can't find an answer you can call or email them for one :)

Green Bean said...

A good reminder what a difference it does make to recycle - if we can't reduce or reuse it first. Those are some pretty impressive stats!

Daisy said...

Paper that is soiled with food residue (pizza boxes, for example) can be composted. I soak mine and then tear it into strips.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Alison - I checked out the link. Pretty cool organization and website. Thanks for sharing!

@Green Bean - It's probably totally geeky to admit, but I find the stats very very interesting. :)

@Daisy - Good reminder. Thanks!

daharja said...

Thanks so much for this. A good reminder of what happens to it all after we're done with it, and to use less to start with.

Karen Moser-Booth said...

These are great stats. Nice post! It's also important to note that certain materials recycled generate considerably fewer toxic chemicals than other materials, in addition to noting the energy used to create new products from them. For instance, I was appalled at the number of toxic chemicals released to recycle plastic--fewer than to create virgin plastic, but a tremendous amount indeed. The number of toxic chemicals produced to recycle paper is notably less than creating virgin paper. And so on. :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Karen - Thanks for the information. More reasons to remember to recycle!


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