Recycling - Are You Doing it Right?

Each week, when that magical blue bin of recyclables is taken away from your home, I can’t imagine you feeling anything but good about it. You did your part, you’ve sorted, washed and rinsed the items before putting them at the curb.

On the flip-side, in store shelves and online descriptions about products made of recycled materials like plastic and paper.

So you think, the system that is designed is working right?

Well, sort of. 

Have you actually ever thought about what happens in-between?

I’m sorry to burst your bubble but everything isn’t as it seems. 

What is recycling?

Let’s break it down. What is recycling exactly? 

By definition, recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products.

What we’re taught in school is that if something is made of a recyclable material like glass, plastic, metal and paper we can toss it into the recycling bin. And further down the line it gets sorted, melted down or processed in such a way that it can be used to make new materials.

Bird's eye view of the back of a garbage truck with two employees dumping the contents of a bin into the truck

How does it actually work?

In theory, this process is great. In practice, recycling is a business. And for those products that aren’t profitable, or not in ideal condition, well these items just get tossed out into a landfill, burned or shipped overseas.

In fact, 80% of recycling is ACTUALLY recycled. Mind blowing, I know. 

 You can see behind the scenes of where your recycling goes by watching this episode of CBC Marketplace (below) or this episode of Broken: Recycling Sham on Netflix.

Now What? What can you do about it?

Okay, so we’ve learned that this magical blue bin of recyclable materials isn’t always recycled. So now what? 

Well first and foremost, remember that the 3R’s is actually a waste hierarchy and steps of Reduce and Reuse should come before Recycling.


When thinking about reducing, it’s focused on purchasing something new. Next time, ask yourself:

  1. Do I absolutely need this item?
  2. Do I already have something similar at home?
  3. Can I buy it secondhand?
  4. Can I borrow it from someone else??

By making conscious decisions, it breaks the consumerist society that we live in. I believe that our individual actions and buying power have an impact. Because in simple economics, if there’s no demand for a product, then there’s no need for supply. 


When you absolutely need to purchase a new item, considering reusing by asking yourself: 

  1. Is it built to last? (i.e. quality versus quantity)
  2. How long will I be able to use it? (once versus thousands of times)
  3. Can I use it for something else afterwards?

Nothing and no system is perfect, including our recycling (especially in North America). To solely rely on something being ‘recyclable’ as doing your part isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, yes recycling is a good thing, but it should be the LAST RESORT rather than your go-to solution. 

Remember that reducing and reusing should come first. And if you need more ideas, more inspiration, resources and accountability, join the Sustainability Mastermind to help reduce what’s going in your recycling bin. 

We can all collectively do better and make more conscious decisions when it comes to buying, so that when you do order UberEats, you don’t have to be riddled with guilt.

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