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Does recycling work? How do you recycle? We talk to Hank Green and others to answer your recycling questions!

The Good Stuff comes to you in playlists of videos covering many styles and topics all around a theme. This week's theme: RECYCLING!

What is recycling exactly, is it worth it, and does it even work?

special thanks to
Patty Moore & Hank Green

music by
Jason Shaw http://
Kevin Macleod
Jake Chudnow
Oscillator Bug

Does Recycling Work?
What Prevents Recycling?
Greenest Man in Chicago
The Plant: Growing Off Grid
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Rockstar Lifestyle

The Good Stuff elsewhere:

Produced by
Craig Benzine, Sam Grant, Matt Weber, David Wolff and Ryan Wolff
I hear a lot of myths about recycling. Does recycling actually work? How does it work? I talked with Patty Moore & Hank Green to find out.


H: Yes, hi!

Hi, again, it's nice to talk to you, resident expert.

H: Resident expert in everything. (smiles)

Yes. There are a lot of myths around recycling. I hear... I hear things like "The city just jumbles it together in the garbage anyway,"  

H: Right, yep...

I hear, "If it's even slightly dirty they'll just throw it away, it won't work," or "it uses more energy than it's worth," and lots of myths. Are these myths true?

H: Um, no, they are not. There are certainly circumstances in which some of those things might degrade the value of the recycling. They, you know, ... If there's a situation  where the recycling plant is at capacity, it's possible that your recycling will go in with the trash. But that's certainly not their goal.

P: Well, wait a minute, lets step back. If you don't put it in the recycling system, it's going to end up in the landfill.  

Hello, Patty Moore! Thanks for sitting down and talking with me in person. (gestures between computer screen and himself).

P: No problem!

Um, so, could you tell me what it is that you do.

P: I've been involved in recycling since 1983. These days I work predominantly with plastic packaging recycling.

Could you just take me through what happens when I throw away, say, a piece of plastic.

P: Well, I could, but here's the problem is that recycling has grown out of solid waste. Solid waste is a local issue. It's always been a local issue. Each community dealt with it on their own. So the reason it's so confusing and people don't know what to do is that every community does something differently. Let's take, for example, a soda or water bottle. Once they get into a discrete package of just soda/water bottle type items, they go to a reclaimer, and what that reclaimer does is they segregate it by color and they pull out anything that's not a PET bottle. And then they take that and they grind it. And they wash it. They put it in a float/sink tank so that the PET sinks, it's heavier than water. And the labels and the caps, they float, cause they are lighter than water. And then they take that flake, it looks like, kinda like oatmeal. They may extrude it into little pellets, which are what the virgin material comes in as, anyway. And then sell that to someone who will turn it into a new product. The most common thing that the ... uh ...  the PET bottles go into is into fiber. So it will get melted down and turned into a long polyester fiber. Or it could go into new packaging. That's the fastest growing component of what happens to those, those soda and water bottles.

There is a myth that it takes more energy to recycle glass or mostly anything, but glass in particular.  

P: Yeah, you hear that often. "Oh, it just it takes more energy to recycle something." But the studies just have not proven that to be the case.  The reason why the glass industry likes to use recycled is that they can run their furnaces at a lower temperature to get the glass cullet, which is the recycled broken up glass. They can melt that down to make a new product, um, and they can run the furnaces at a lower temperature than if they started with the raw material of the sand, etc. Aluminum is probably the biggest saving, that's why aluminum has such a high scrap value.

H: Aluminum used to be more valuable than gold.

But we don't think of it that way because it's everywhere?

H: Because it's everywhere, yeah. Yeah, because we've created these massive systems for producing it cheaply. To make aluminum from scratch, you have to mine something called bauxite, which is an aluminum ore. It's fairly difficult to extract the aluminum from the bauxite. The way that you do that is with electricity. It is an electrical based process. A lot of aluminum manufacturing places are next to hydroelectric plants, which can produce electricity cheaply, so that they can just use all of that electricity to make your tin can. Now that's a huge amount of investment. Like you've built a dam.

"I must have more power!"

H: It is crazy that we then just throw that away.

Is there any material that doesn't really save very much?

P: Um, not one that's being recycled today, that's the thing, the reason why you see recycling is because it makes economic and energy sense.

Um, that kind of leads to my next question. Can you ...Are people making money off of recycling? Is there a way to make money off of it.

P: Oh absolutely people are making money off of it, and they're making money off of it in a few different ways. It's more expensive to landfill than it is to recycle, so by recycling you have the avoided disposal cost. Then you have people who are generating the materials and they are able to sell those materials to companies who will convert them into new, raw, material. And if the system is working well, the companies who are using that new, raw, material are paying less for it than they would if they bought virgin material.
H: Interestingly, the richest woman in China got rich by buying used paper from America, and turning it into cardboard. and then selling it back to America. She's worth like four billion dollars. So, yes! There are people who want to buy recycled materials.

Okay so recycling does work, it is worth it, and you can make money doing it. But what prevents us from doing it all the time? Let's find out in the next video, huh? You can click. Over, which way? That way? My right? That's where you can click. I don't know.