Recycling: You May Be Doing It Wrong

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A lot of people feel empowered by recycling. They feel like that are actively making a difference and helping the planet by dividing household waste into the correct bin and ultimately giving that item a new life. Although recycling may seem fairly straight forward, in truth it can be quite complicated, mainly because guidelines differ in nearly every municipality, but here are some facts about recycling that you should keep in mind wherever you are.

Know what the recycling symbol means

Something most people probably don’t know is that the recycling symbol (the green chasing-arrows) is just an identifier, there is no oversight for how it is used, meaning that we shouldn’t assume that just because a certain item has been marked with it, that that item is recyclable. The numbers placed inside the symbol go from one to seven and represent the different type of plastic and material that that object is made of. Most of the time plastics that are numbered one and two are recyclable, but plastics that are numbered three through seven include PVC, polystyrene and mixed plastics, meaning that they are harder to recycle. Items that are usually identified with higher numbers are for example toys, packaging and styrofoam. Stop being mislead by the recycling symbol. Look closely at the numbers, and find a way to repurpose higher numbered items instead of attempting to recycle them.

Don’t be fooled!

At first glance an item may seem to be made of just one material, but if you look closely you could actually discover that what you initially thought was a random paper cup, is actually lined with plastic, which means it can’t be place with paper recycling. Another common item that is wrongly placed with recycling paper, are receipts! Unfortunately though receipts are often printed with glossy-coated thermal paper can include BPA which most recycling plants can’t process. By putting these types of receipts in with normal paper, you will risk contaminating the whole contents of your bin. To avoid this dilemma all together, request electronic receipts whenever possible!

Other commonly misplaced items are coffee pods, toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes, which are also extremely difficult to recycle because of their complex list of materials!

Avoid Contamination

Did you know that even widely recycled materials such as aluminum, steel, paper and plastic can easily become contaminated and end up in a landfill site? According to Waste Management “Today, the average contamination rate among communities and businesses sits at around 25%. That means that roughly 1 in 4 items placed in a recycling container is actually not recyclable through curbside programs”. This happens because of silly mistakes, for example not rinsing a can of tomato sauce. Not many people are aware of the fact that a simple mistake (such as not rinsing an aluminum container), will not only keep that can container from being recycled, but could also mess up an entire bin of other items. Containers don’t need to be spotless, but should get a quick rinse. This applies not only to glass or aluminum or plastic, but to paper too. For example, newspapers used to wipe oil or grease shouldn’t be placed with paper either, and should be disposed of in a completely different bin. Greased up pizza boxes on the other hand should be ripped apart, with the lid (which is normally grease free) being placed with recycling paper, and the bottom, covered in food or grease, disposed of separately.


Plastic bags are a nightmare

Recyclables need to be loose in the bin, which means that glass, plastic, aluminum bottles and cans should never be bundled up in a bag unless specifically requested by your local guidelines. You may think bagging everything up is a convenient system, but in truth plastic bags can be an unpredictable and time-consuming nightmares for those sorting your waste at the recycling plant. They are such a hazard that plastic bags filled with recycling are routinely thrown away because workers know that they will end up slowing down and potentially damaging automated machinery at the recycling facilities. The only items that can be bagged are paper goods, which can be bundled up together with a paper bag. 

Don’t go on a shredding spree!

The same way plastic bags damage machinery, so do tiny shreds of paper which can easily clog up sorting and processing machinery. The same way plastic bags can be discarded and sent to landfill, so can shredded paper. In some cities shredded paper can be placed in curbside bins in a labeled and sealed paper bag, others advise you to place smaller paper pieces in your compost bin instead. Check you guidelines.

Keep in mind that even recycling centers which have machinery that is less susceptible to clogging will not always be willing to accept shredded paper, simply because it will lower the quality of what they will ultimately produce. The length of the paper fibre in fact determines whether or not the end product will be a high-grade or a low-grade material. If they are aiming for higher quality, they will discard smaller pieces.

Last but not least, and this is something that has to do with all recycling paper, not just shredded one, exposing paper to the elements (such as rain) can break down its organic material, limiting its recycling future. The easiest way to avoid any damage, is making sure your bin lid is tightly sealed.


Lid on or lid off?

Seal the lid on you paper bin, but what about the lid on your containers? The answer is, check the material! Plastic caps on plastic bottles don’t usually create problems, but metal lids on glass jars or plastic lids on metal jars are a no brainer and should be separated and placed accordingly. 

Remember, Recycling should be your last option.

Recycling is a great way to help the planet, and although we have demonstrated that it isn’t as straight forward of a process as you may have initially thought, it will quickly become second nature to correctly dispose of everything. Read up your local guidelines and have a clear understanding of what your plant can or can’t process, and where you should take problematic items such as old batteries or used oil. In the big scheme of sustainable living though, remember that Recycling should always be your last ‘R’: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle.

Do you recycle? How many of these rules were you aware of and how many were you guilty of? Let us know!

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