6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong

20cli-aspirational-lede-superJumbo

Recycling ♺ ♺ ♺ ♺ ♺

Recycling is a task that when done correctly, can divert from the waste stream, and make you feel good about doing your part to keep manufactured items going. However, a large number of people who recycle aren’t following guidelines or suggestions, making a lot of their “recycled” items actually end up in the landfill after all. In addition, China has recently stopped buying many of our recycled materials, which has had a huge impact on what items are actually finding their way through the recycling circle of life.

Due to negligence or lack of information about the recycling process, many of us get the basics wrong. The New York Times has an important article that helps to break down some of these recycling misunderstandings.  Below are 6 of the most common items that are incorrectly recycled. Take a look.

6 things you're recycling wrong

Plastic Bags

While progressive cities and some states have banned single use plastic bags, they’re still way overused, and one of the most harmful items clogging our waterways and environment. Very few places recycle plastic bags, but check out this resource on plastic bag drop-offs to see if your area has one.

20cli-aspirational-carryout-superJumbo

Greasy/food filled takeout containers

Even if a container is labeled correctly for recycling in your area, another contamination culprit is food residue: scraps of pad thai in a plastic tray, or those few drops of bad milk at the bottom of the jug.

Washing out food scraps from recyclables can be just as important as putting the right thing in the recycling bin, said Jackie Lang, a spokeswoman for Waste Management in Oregon. You don’t have to scrub containers until they are sparkling clean — that could waste water. But too many scraps of food and liquid can contaminate a load, which could then be sent to a landfill, Ms. Lang said. As much as possible, “keep food and liquids out,” she said.

20cli-aspirational-coffee-superJumbo

Disposable coffee cups

Your disposable coffee cup might seem like it can be recycled, but most single-use cups are lined with a fine film of polyethylene, which makes the cups liquid-proof but also difficult and expensive to reprocess (because the materials have to be separated). Most waste management facilities will treat the cups as trash.

If you’re putting these cups in with your recycling, they are likely contaminating the rest of the materials, said Jim Ace, a senior campaigner at Stand.earth, an environmental group. In an experiment this year, the group affixed electronic trackers inside Starbucks cups, put the cups in recycling bins in Denver, then traced them to a landfill.

“There’s no way a consumer would know if a cup was lined,” Mr. Ace said, so it’s best to throw it away. (You can also check if your local recycler has special equipment to handle coffee cups; some do, a Starbucks spokeswoman said. The New York City Department of Sanitation says it accepts “paper cups with non-paper lining.”)

The plastic lid might be recyclable in your area; check the number inside it against your local recycling guidelines.

20cli-aspirational-pizza-superJumbo

Greasy pizza boxes

Pizza boxes are among the most common offenders when it comes to contamination, waste managers say. The problem is that oil often seeps into the cardboard. The oil cannot be separated from the fiber, making that material less valuable, and less marketable, to buyers.

But that’s not to say you can never recycle a pizza box, said Marjorie Griek, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, which promotes recycling in the United States. “If you’ve got a few crumbs in there, that’s not an issue,” she said.

Pizza boxes with “small amounts of grease” are O.K. to recycle in New York City, a sanitation department spokeswoman said. If the grease seeps through the cardboard, the box should be put in a composting bin or thrown out, she said.

Remember, there are also two sides to a pizza box. If there’s a side that’s not oily, tear that off and recycle it.

20cli-aspirational-yogurt-superJumbo

Yogurt containers

After China banned used plastics this year, many municipalities in the United States no longer accept plastics numbered 3 to 7, which can include things like yogurt cups, butter tubs and vegetable oil bottles. Look at the bottom of a container for a number inside a triangle to see what type it is.Without China, there is little market for these types of plastic, said Will Posegate, chief operations officer for Garten Services, which manages waste in parts of Oregon. “It’s expensive to get rid of it right now,” he said.

 

20cli-aspirational-diapers-superJumbo

Diapers (yes, diapers)

O.K., we’re not accusing you of attempting to recycle used diapers. But people out there are trying. Waste managers around the United States say they turn up at their recycling facilities often.

In some cases, people might think that a diaper should be recyclable because it is mostly made of plastic, said Garry Penning, a spokesman for Rogue Disposal and Recycling, which operates throughout Oregon. But diapers are made of a number of materials, and usually more than one type of plastic. Of course, once they are used, they are also filled with human waste.

In other cases, Mr. Penning said, the recycling bin has simply become “the overflow for the garbage pail.” While there have been some attempts at diaper recycling, for the most part dirty one-use diapers are not considered recyclable and are best put straight in the trash.

“As a result of China’s waste import restrictions, we need to educate the public how to recycle properly,” said David Biderman, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America. “I think the public can make a significant difference,” he said.

Advertisements