Recycling Etiquette: The Right and Wrong Way to Recycle
By: C. Jeanne Heida
In our community, our public works department makes it convenient for people to recycle. Recycling bins are turning up everywhere and it's so easy to toss that recyclable in the bin and forget about it. Unfortunately, many people aren't aware that there is a right and a wrong way to recycle.
Did you know that when the wrong item is tossed in the bin, it can jam equipment or ruin a entire batch of what could have been valuable recycling? Broken glass, to use as an example, is difficult to sort from paper, cans, and plastics. Once these materials have been mixed up with broken glass, everything has to be thrown out. Even something like greasy pizza box can ruin an entire load of paper or cardboard recycling.
While the staff at the recycling center tries to get everything sorted out, sometimes contaminated materials still find their way to the end-market recyclers. These businesses then have to sort and dispose of unwanted material which costs them money as well. According to one resource (metro-region.org), paper mills estimate that 10% of paper recyclables they purchase is garbage.
Whether you bring your recyclables to a center, put it out at curbside, or bring it to work, there are some basic rules that should be followed.
How to recycle the right way
If you have a curbside program in your town, your local Public Works department will have a publication of what can be recycled and how. Those who bring their recycling to a recycling center should follow the guidelines posted on the containers.
Paper: Most municipalities will accept different types of paper which should be sorted. Construction paper, brightly colored "astro bright" papers, and greasy or waxed coated papers can ruin a batch of paper recycling. These must be thrown in the garbage instead. Toilet paper, tissues, tissue paper, and paper towels must be thrown in the garbage as well.
Plastics: Not all communities collect plastics, and not all plastics are recyclable. Follow the guidelines listed by the public works department, and include only those plastics that can be recycled. Remove plastic lids and rings from these containers which are often not recyclable. Also, rinse out the container and smash it flat before placing it in the bins. The smell of sour milk coming from an old milk jug is pretty nasty plus can attract feral animals and flies.
Metal and aluminum: Most communities take cans of all types. Before tossing in the recycling, rinse the cans thoroughly to remove all traces of food. Food particles attract flies and other animals; food contaminants can ruin a batch of recycling. Also remove the paper label and flatten before throwing in the recycling bin.
Cardboard: Cardboard can also be recycled in most communities. Your cardboard should be flattened for easy pickup. Do not include cardboard that is greasy (such as pizza or donut boxes) or wax coated (such as meat and certain produce boxes). The wax and grease can ruin an entire batch of cardboard that is being processed for reuse. How can you tell if the cardboard is wax coated? Scratch your finger over the surface; if you see wax under your fingernails, it means the cardboard needs to be tossed in the garbage.
Glass: Glass must also be rinsed, and sorted by color. Remove the lids and bottle tops since these can contaminate the batch of glass recycling. Do not include mirrors, dishes, light bulbs, or ceramics.
The biggest contaminant that recycling centers face seems to be plastic bags. Many folks properly sort their recycling, but then use a plastic bag to dispose of the recyclables. Others will drop plastic into glass or paper bins out of laziness. Clean grocery bags, bread bags, and produce bags should be placed in a recycling bin at your local grocery store. Dry cleaning bags (and hangers) can be returned to the dry cleaners. Plastic trash bags or yard bags can only be disposed of in garbage cans and should never be placed in a recycling bin.
Following these tips keeps recycling centers operating at maximum efficiently. It will also reduce bad odors and keep animals from rooting around your recycling bins. But most importantly of all, it will prevent perfectly good recyclables from ending up in the landfill, which is the very reason why we all recycle in the first place.
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