Recycling Myth: It just goes to the landfill anyway.

February 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm 8 comments

Recycling makes sense  both economically and environmentally.  However, when I am giving a presentation or a MRF Tour, some people try to disagree.  The problem is that people are making old arguments from 20 or more years ago.  Over the next few days I will share some of the most common myths about recycling and arguments for not recycling that I occasionally hear.

Myth #1: Stuff I recycle just goes to the landfill anyway. 

This argument is usually from a person who “saw” the garbage man or janitor mix the recyclables and the trash together.  Garbage haulers do not do this because it is illegal and they would get in serious trouble if someone found out.    In some neighborhoods, especially in Waukesha County, the hauler uses a little truck or scooter to pick up recycling and garbage from houses.  The truck is divided into 3 compartments: one for garbage, one for paper recycling, and one for commingled recycling (bottles, cans, etc).    Little trucks are used because they are quicker and easier to maneuver through neighborhoods.  They also use less gas than the large trucks.  

Once the little trucks are full, they meet in a central location and sort the materials into the larger ‘mother trucks’.  One big truck is filled with ONLY garbage and goes to the landfill.  The other truck is filled with ONLY recyclables and comes to the MRF (Materials Recycling Facility).  This large truck is divided down the middle: one side is filled with paper and the other side is filled with commingled recyclables (plastic #1 & plastic #2 bottles and jugs, aluminum cans, glass jars, and steel or tin cans).  

Below are some pictures of the trucks used for this process.   They were taken in the city of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  I hope this helps clarify what happens to your recyclables.  If you ever have a question, do not hesitate to ask.  

recycle more,

Recycle Raccoon



Here is the little truck.

Here is the little truck.


In goes the trash.

In goes the trash.

In go the bottles and cans.

In go the bottles and cans.


In goes the paper.

In goes the bagged or bundled paper.

Where is this large cardboard going to fit?  It won't.  Please make sure you cut your cardboard to 3' x 3' sections.

How is this large cardboard going to fit? It won't. Please make sure you cut your cardboard to 3' x 4' or smaller sections. It also needs to be tied together.




This is the big truck.

This is the big recycling truck.

Here is a big truck tipping out the bottles and cans at the MRF.

Here is a big recycling truck tipping out the bottles and cans at the MRF.


Entry filed under: Little Action, Local Interest, Recycling. Tags: , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. pays to live green  |  February 21, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Really great pictures. As you stated, I think the biggest problem is that people see one incident of somebody not recycling properly and he/she is now totally against recycling. On top of that, people just tend to be lazy and use that as an excuse not to recycle because it is easier to throw everything in the trash.

  • 2. Melissa  |  November 28, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    I have heard that this is not true. After the plastics (and other things we recycle) have been taken away, they all end up at the landfill.

    My dad works at a landfill and he sees trucks coming in (filled with plastic) and dumping it into the landfill.

    Normally I would question him, but he use to be a recycling maniac. He would recycle EVERYthing… not anymore though.

  • 3. Russell Larke  |  January 22, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Of course this is contrary to news reports last year that because of the collapse of the sell on value of recyclable material the councils could not sell it on and are storing it all in warehouses. But of course they can only store that for so long legally and then it goes to landfill. Also that when the waste goes through the MRF up to 20% of any waste is rejected and is then sent to landfill anyway.

    So what you mean is:

    Its a myth that it all goes to landfill, only 20% of it does and that rises drastically when the Chinese decide not to buy recyclable material because the demand for such has dropped due to economic activity. But then again whats the actual environmental cost of exporting this stuff to the other side of the world anyway?

  • 4. vanderleun  |  March 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Actually, it’s bullshit that it’s a myth:

  • 5. cassie  |  April 23, 2010 at 7:58 am

    wow thats alot of trash

  • 6. brendan  |  June 14, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    i live in millers forest 30 min north of newcastle ,nsw ,australia and we have 2 compartments in our recycling bin 1 for bottles cartons glass etc the other is for paper and cardboard but when the truck lifts they both come out at the same time so i beleive that they wud get mixed any way. can any 1 tell what happens here?

  • 7. Recycle Raccoon  |  June 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    There are a lot of factors that could affect your specific recycling situation. These photographs and my knowledge are specific to Waukesha County, Wisconsin. In Wisconsin there are specific bans on haulers redirecting recyclables to a landfill. Although some recyclables still go to the landfill in Wisconsin, it is because residents have placed the items in the trash can instead of the recycling bin. Waukesha County negotiated long term contracts prior to the commodities crash and thus were not affected the way other groups may have been. Companies exporting paper to China were hit a lot harder than those who were working with more local plants. In Wisconsin, a lot of our paper goes up north to a considerable number of paper mills in the state. At our facility, the rejected waste, or residue, is around 2%. This is generally made up of non-recyclable items, or rather, items that we do not have markets for and thus do not intentionally collect. An example would be a sour cream container (plastic #5) or a tennis shoe.

    Finally, @ brendan — There are some trucks that are made to keep falling items separate, you would need to look down into the truck doing to collecting to see if the truck was equipped in such a way. I know some other municipalities we work with have these types of trucks. Also, you may have single stream recycling. This system utilizes machines to do the majority of the sorting and does not require the resident to sort materials into the two categories you described. However, I would think that if your area had such a facility they would have advertised the change.

    The best thing anyone can do to be sure of what is happening to their recyclables would be to seek out the government or private entity in charge of handling the items. Many recycling facilities and landfills offer tours and information. This is the best way of discovering what happens in your location, because there is a great amount of variety in what happens to your recyclables and how they are collected.

  • 8. Antoine  |  May 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    It’s not a myth. Not only have I seen the recyclables go in with the regular trash, I have on recorded on my surveillance camera.

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