While recycling bins may be ubiquitous, their actual usefulness is a matter of debate.
To start, the United States lacks significant recycling capacity. As Daniel de Visé writes for The Hill, citing chemical engineer Jan Dell, “The recycling industry has the capacity to process about 21 percent of the plastic used in water and soft drink bottles, 10 percent of milk jugs and juice bottles, less than 5 percent of grocery bags and shrink wrap, less than 2 percent of ice-cream tubs and coffee pods and less than 1 percent of plastic cutlery, coffee lids and DVD cases.”
Another part of the equation is Americans’ misunderstanding of the recycling system. For example, a 2019 survey polled citizens about whether certain items could be recycled. “Over half of respondents (53 percent) erroneously believe greasy pizza boxes can be recycled, while 68 percent incorrectly think the same for used plastic utensils,” reads an article in Waste Advantage Magazine.
As a result of all of this confusion, while 75% of goods consumed by Americans can theoretically be recycled, the U.S. recycling rate has consistently lingered at around 34%.
This lack of adequate recycling infrastructure and information also means that, though Americans may throw their goods into a recycling bin, they can end up alongside all of the other trash, as TikTok user and McDonald’s worker Kai (@kaisbubbletea) recently noted in a video with over 32,000 views.
mctired♬ original sound – Kai
In a video citing her various issues with McDonald’s, she says that, though their store has recycling bins, their contents end up in the same dumpster as the normal waste.
“We don’t recycle that sh*t,” she states. “That all goes in the dumpster.”
She goes on to say that one of the reasons for this act may be the aforementioned confusion about what is and is not recyclable.
“People don’t know how to f*cking recycle anyways,” she says. “It’s all contaminated, so we have to throw it out.”
Kai continues by noting that she’s observed other trash receptacles that better allow customers to dispose of and sort their garbage. These can include pour stations for leftover drinks and better instructions for disposal.
“When i lived in japan they just wouldn’t pick up your trash if you sorted it wrong lol,” she recalled in a comment.
Again, this garbage sorting issue may not be wholly the fault of the McDonald’s location. Numerous outlets have reported on issues regarding waste disposal, with some noting that issues with garbage export have led to problems in local recycling infrastructure.
In the comments section of Kai’s video, users shared their frustration about the apparent recycling facade.
“I’m so tired of places having a recycling option but all of it goes to the same dumpster,” wrote a user. “it makes no sense.”
“The trash thing! why are americans so incapable of recycling, we need to do it how asian countries do it,” offered another.
“I felt the recycling thing at starbucks.. like why is it just for show,” questioned a third.
The Daily Dot reached out to McDonald’s via email and Kai via Instagram DM.