Scientists Say That Recycling Has Backfired Big Time

Recycling campaigns can definitely help reduce what goes to the landfill. However, scientists are pointing out that it has overshadowed the bigger issue of over-production and downplayed other more sustainable waste reduction strategies.

In a thought-provoking essay for The Conversation, a dynamic interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Virginia delves into the psychology of waste. Their intriguing findings reveal a common tendency among many individuals to overemphasize recycling in the waste management industry’s famous “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan. However, as they argue, this emphasis has unwittingly led to a significant unintended consequence: the public’s misconception of recycling as a magical solution, blurring the lines between what can and cannot be recycled and disregarding the looming crisis of mounting waste production. Prepare to have your perspective challenged!

In a series of experiments, the UV researchers first asked participants to list “reduce,” “reuse,” and “recycle” in order of effectiveness. Surprisingly, a whopping 78 percent got it wrong!

In a second experiment, the researchers had participants use a computer program to virtually “sort” waste into recycling, compost, and landfill bins. Unfortunately, the outcome was even more shocking. Many mistakenly put non-recyclable waste, like plastic bags and lightbulbs, into the recycle bin.

Over-emphasizing or getting the recycling protocol wrong is not just a minor issue. It has devastating downstream effects. Microplastics from consumer waste are polluting our oceans, land masses, and bodies. And let’s not forget about those greenhouse gases from the production of all this stuff that keep messing with our planet.

You know, it’s interesting how many governments are trying to reduce single-use plastic items like straws and bags. But here’s the thing: the industries that make those items just keep churning out more and more, and even their own solutions are optional. It’s like they’re not really committed to fixing the problem, you know?

The responsibility to reduce, reuse, and recycle ultimately falls on us, the consumers. But here’s the thing – we’re not as well-versed in these practices as we should be, as those studies mentioned earlier indicate. And let’s face it, this status quo isn’t doing much to address the global waste crisis. Plus, it requires a ton of logistical effort and manpower. So, yeah, it’s definitely a problem we need to tackle head-on.


  1. Recycling was a scam from the beginning. Some things can be recycled like metal and cardboard. Not plastic, unless it has a 1 or a 2 in the little triangle. Plastic garbage bags are a necessary evil. I remember when my mom wrapped the garbage in newspaper and threw the bundle in the garbage can. We could cut down on the plastic going to the landfills, sewers, oceans by going back to glass soda bottles, milk bottles and jars. Liquor and wine, pickles & olives are still sold in glass bottles. Why can’t soda, milk and peanut butter also be sold in glass containers?? Some plastic is useful and doesn’t end up in the landfill in a day, like pergo flooring, or plastic framed windows. Leave the plastic for the medical field. (IV tubes and bags)
    Anyway, that’s my two cents.


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