Where does waste go when you recycle it? The paper, glass, metal, and plastic you throw in your recycling bin is delivered by a government-run waste management company to a materials recovery facility, where it’s then sorted, packaged, and delivered to private processing facilities. 

Recycling is important because much of the waste we produce is not biodegradable, meaning it does not break down and return to the earth, a process known as “decomposition.” Some plastics take up to 1,000 years to decompose! 

Not everyone recycles, however, and many people don’t know how to recycle properly. As a result, 91% of the world’s plastic is never recycled, and a majority of this waste ends up in landfills or becomes litter in our lands and oceans, according to National Geographic. If we don’t do something, plastics in the ocean could outweigh fish by the mid-21st Century, according to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

While recycling is something we all should do, it’s not enough to fix the problem. In order to save our planet, we must also reduce the amount of plastics we use. More importantly, corporations need to stop using so much plastic in their products and packaging. 

To learn about how to recycle, check out this guide from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Note: Not everything that is plastic can be recycled, and certain recyclables that contain corrosive materials, such as batteries, need to be recycled separately. Plastics that can be recycled are marked with a rectangular chasing arrow symbol. Before you recycle, make sure you clean your recyclables. 

What is America Recycles Day?

Founded in 1997, America Recycles Day is a nationally-recognized day in the United States that encourages and celebrates recycling. This is a day to educate the public about their consumption habits, encourage them to recycle on a daily basis, and teach them how to recycle the right way. America Recycles Day is an initiative of Keep America Beautiful, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to stopping pollution. 

Here are some things you can do to support recycling, according to the nonprofit:

To learn more about America Recycles Day, check out the Keep America Beautiful website

To teach your students how engineers and others have developed and improved the manufacturing of recycled paper, download the IEEE TryEngineering lesson plan Classroom Paper Recycling today.