Don't Waste Your Recycling Efforts

Mandi Angelique

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I cannot shake the story I heard recently from a friend who stated she recycled for years, then found out she was doing it wrong, with most of her items probably ending up in the landfill.

The friend was putting her recycling in white plastic bags. After seeing a video online about how many recycling centers automatically discard these bags, rather than ripping them open and going through the unidentified and possibly contaminated contents, she was rather discouraged.

Her efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle had more than likely been in vain.

She had done everything else right. She rinsed out her jars and washed out her plastic containers to ensure no food was left in them, broke down her cardboard boxes, and even divided her glass, plastics, aluminum, and cardboard into separate “bags” to make sure they wound up successfully recycled, and not in the landfill (although this is not always necessary).

Her story had me thinking about our own recycling habits at home, and how we could improve.

Recycling is not always easy to understand. The rules can be complicated and seem to change often. Some types of plastics may be accepted while others may not.

Some takeout containers are recyclable, but others are not. (Example: Only some plastic takeout containers are recyclable, however, cardboard drink holders (think McDonald’s drink holders) can be recycled.

Items like pizza boxes and Chinese takeout boxes (with the closed top flap) usually are not recyclable).

This is further complicated by the fact that recycling rules and practices vary based on location. There is no recycling global or country standard, or even a community standard.

For example, in the U.S. many counties will have different recycling capabilities, even within the same state.

Failure to adhere to your local recycling rules can lead to contamination and (otherwise good) recyclables ending up in the landfill or incinerated.

Just to reiterate in case you did not already know, most recycling facilities do not accept recycling in plastic garbage bags.

According to republicservices.com, “Plastic bags cannot be recycled, and should not be used to hold your recyclables. The driver will not collect recyclables in plastic bags. The best way to prevent blowing recyclables is to use a 45-gallon or smaller can instead of a recycling bin or to hold your recycling until your next service day,” the site said.

Republic Services further advises residents to remember three simple basics ahead of Earth Day to help reduce confusion and keep recycling simplified.

They are: Remember to keep recyclables unbagged (a simple but easy mistake many people make); keep recyclables empty, clean and dry; and know what to throw.

Dirty or wet recyclables can contaminate the entire bin so it is important for recyclers to remember that only clean and dry paper can be recycled.

“You don’t need to scrub items down, just rinse and shake them dry. You should rinse out and dry glass, aluminum, or plastic containers before tossing them in your bin,” the site said.

The other important tip is to know what to throw away and know what to recycle. Flattened cardboard, paper, plastic bottles and jugs, aluminum cans, and glass (depending on the area) are all recyclable, while certain items can never be recycled like diapers (clean or dirty), plastic bags, yard waste, and hazardous materials.

Knowing what happens to most of the recycling can be disheartening, but by enacting change ourselves, we can help improve the Earth’s environment together.

Look up your local regulations on recycling and try to at least understand the basics.

For more information, you can also visit recyclingsimplified.com.

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Michigan-based journalist since 2007 with a background reporting on local communities. Thanks for reading; I'd be honored if you'd follow me!

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