Are You a Bad Recycler?

The truth about items of dubious recyclability

Imagine you’ve just finished a fruit punch flavored juice box. The juice was exceptional, and you are happy to have ingested it. Now, however, you are faced with a conundrum: What do you do with your empty juice box? You’re a good person. You care about the environment. Ideally, you would like to recycle this box. You just aren’t sure if juice boxes are recyclable.

As you walk towards the waste collection cans, you mull this over in your head. “This box is made out of paper, which is recyclable, therefore this box must also be recyclable,” you think, logically. “But there is wax/plastic coating on the box, the recyclability of which is unknown to me,” you say to yourself. You are now conflicted. You shake your fist violently in the air. “Why me?” you shout to the heavens. You finally reach the waste cans—the moment of truth. In the end, you decide it’s best to recycle the juice box. You don’t want to be wasteful and you figure the people at the recycling plant will probably sort through the waste anyway.

Regrettably, you made a mistake. However, there is no need to fret—you have simply fallen victim to a common phenomenon in which good, eco-conscious people recycle things that ought not to be recycled because they think they can be recycled. Just like you did with your hypothetical juice box. As it turns out, juice boxes are not recyclable.

In the end, you decide it’s best to recycle the juice box—you don’t want to be wasteful and you figure the people at the recycling plant will probably sort through the waste anyway.

According to Waste Management, juice boxes (as well as plastic lids, plastic bags, and plastic cups) “contain more than one type of plastic resin and can jam recycling equipment.” Among the other items you can’t toss in that big green bin are: glass mirrors, foam cups, materials that contain food or food remnants, wet or damp paper, pizza boxes, used paper towels, and heavily dyed paper. Recycling any of the above products can result in damaged equipment, and cause problems for nice people. You wouldn’t want to cause problems for nice people, would you?

Recycling [these types of products] can result in damaging equipment and causing problems for nice people.

Next time you have a juice box, go ahead and toss that sucker in the trash bin. You’re still a good, eco-friendly person, I promise.