By UW Recycling | Sep 23, 2019
people wearing full body white plastic suits sorting through trash

3 min. to read

Do you have questions about recycling or composting? Here are 10 common recycling myths that pop up on campus, along with definitive answers from UW Recycling!

Myth #1: Cardboard and paper are always recyclable

Food-soiled paper and cardboard cannot be recycled. Items that have food or grease on it, like pizza boxes and napkins, should be composted.

Myth #2: All plastic items marked with the chasing recycling arrows are recyclable

Not always. The number inside the recycling arrows refer to the type of plastic used to make the item. In Seattle and on campus, recycle by size and shape. Items must be at least 3 inches wide and be in the shape of a tub, jug, cup, bottle or lid. Make sure to compost it if the item says compostable!

Myth #3: Paper towels go into the garbage

All paper towels are compostable on campus! However, if the paper towel was used for bodily fluid, it should go into the garbage instead of compost.

Myth #4: Water bottles are recycled into new water bottles

Recycled plastic is usually turned into carpet or fleece. They can only be recycled once – that’s why reusable bottles are the best option!

Myth #5: All caps are recyclable

Any caps smaller than 3 inches (about the length of your index finger) should go into the garbage. Plastic or metal items that are too small can be mistaken as broken glass during the sorting process and contaminate the recyclables.

Plastic bottle caps can be put back on a bottle before recycling if the bottle is completely empty.

Myth #6: Recyclables need to be washed and scrubbed, which wastes water

Recyclables really do need to be empty and dry. However, they don't have to be washed and scrubbed thoroughly. If something’s soiled with a bit of food residue, you can wipe it off with a napkin or rinse it quickly with a small amount of water.

If food or liquids get into a recycling bin, it can degrade other materials before the recycling process starts.

Myth #7: Anything I put in the bin is sorted

When material is tossed in a garbage/landfill container, it is not sorted before it’s shipped to the landfill.

For recycling, not everything can be sorted correctly or recycled into something new. Thin plastic/foil like chip bags or candy wrappers end up contaminating paper because they’re so similar (lightweight & flat). Loose plastic bags, ropes or Christmas lights can wrap around machinery and cause the whole system to shut down.

Myth #8: Only food can go in the compost

Food is just the start! All serviceware on campus (even things bought from the on-campus Starbucks!) such as plates, utensils, cups, lids, straws, etc. are compostable.

Got something from off campus? Be sure to check for that “compostable” label on products before you toss them!

Myth #9: Compostable products can go in recycle or landfill

This is false! Compostable serviceware is made of corn or plant fiber that cannot recycled. Compostable items are considered contaminants in recycling facilities!

Try not to throw them in the garbage either! When compostable items are sent to the landfill, they don’t breakdown like they naturally would in a compost facility due to lack of oxygen and heat.

Myth #10: All biodegradable items are compostable

Not at all. Biodegradable means that an item is capable of breaking down with the help of bacteria or other living organisms.  Just because it's biodegradable doesn’t mean it can be successfully turned into compost!


If you have more questions, you can check out these resources: