People talk about recycling like it’s some sort of superhero—just by throwing that plastic bottle in the green bin, you’re doing your part to punch pollution in its oily kidneys and leave the world a greener, healthier place. And yeah, re-using old materials is a great way to reduce the impact on the environment . . . if it works. But sometimes the theory is better than the practice. Here are ten ways recycling actually hurts the environment.
#10. Contamination Gets Around
Contamination is one of the biggest obstacles in the recycling industry right now. If there are impurities or toxins on the original material—say lead paint from an aluminum spray can—they’ll usually make it through the recycling process and end up buried in the new product, which might turn out to be, say, a soda can.
The worst part is that sometimes we don’t know when something’s contaminated—until it’s too late. For example, we’re just realizing that hundreds of buildings in Taiwan made from recycled steel have been giving people gamma radiation poisoning—and not the good kind—for the past twelve years.