Despite what you were taught, recycling is not the best option. Recycling is best only when the reducing and reusing have been completely exhausted.
The key problem with recycling is that it is actually downcycling: the materials go down in quality over time. In the landmark treatise on green product design Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote:
“When plastics other than those found in soda and water bottles are recycled, they are mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of lower quality, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump… Aluminum is another valuable but constantly downcycled material. The typical soda can consists of two kinds of aluminum: the walls are composed of aluminum, manganese alloy with some magnesium, plus coatings and paint, while the harder top is aluminum magnesium alloy. In conventional recycling these materials are melted together, resulting in a weaker—and less useful—product.” (Cradle to Cradle, 56-57)
In other words, with most recyclables, you can’t just keep reusing the same materials over and over again. Eventually, they are downcycled to a point where it is no longer economically or chemically feasible to transform them, and they are thrown out into the landfill that you were trying to avoid.Recycling Facts