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Where does recycling go after we put it into the bin?

Nick Fewings Unsplash

Did you know there are seven different types of plastics? That number inside the arrow triangle on any item of plastic corresponds to the chemical composition of the plastic itself, each kind is made with different materials and compounds. In Cache County, plastic types one and two are recyclable, along with cardboard, aluminum cans and metal cans. The county will also recycle glass, but only at specific sites. 

“I think the biggest misconception with recycling is that everything is recyclable just because it's plastic, it’s not the case. So there's many different types of plastics, there's many different types of metals, and everywhere you live is going to accept different different types of plastics and different types of metals.”


Anthony Whaley is a Co-Founder of Compost Cache Valley, a curbside composting service that also offers a collection service for glass recyclables. He explained that each county decides what plastics it will and won’t accept, but that decision is really made by the facilities that process plastics, turning them into certain products. These recycling facilities can be located here, but the majority of recyclables are sent to overseas facilities to be processed. Whaley says what the facilities will recycle is driven largely by market demand,

“Whatever you're producing, you have to have a buyer for, and it's really hard to link up buyers with the facility. And so if there's no one to buy the end products, ultimately people aren't going to accept the material that you want to recycle in the first place.”

Half of everything that gets put into a recycling bin ultimately ends up in a landfill. Either because it was contaminated by things like food residue, or because a facility won’t take that type of plastic. 

“It's one of the reasons why recycling is so much more expensive than just throwing it away”

Whaley recommends checking what kind of recycling your area takes, and making sure to clean off all recyclables. He said it’s especially important to remember that shipping labels and most kinds of tape aren’t recyclable, so take those off boxes before they go in the bin.


Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!