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Your Unofficial 2019 Recycling Reminder

I can’t say I’ve been doing my best to live with less waste and use less harmful chemicals. But I am trying. I’ve made changes in the products I’m buying and I make note of the packaging being used to send it.

For example, recently I’ve purchased a Pela phone case which is made up of compostable materials instead of plastic. I purchased Myro deodorant, a more sustainable and natural alternative to the usual drug store brands. I stopped using makeup wipes and I’m looking into ways to make my nail painting hobby/problem more sustainable. I also make a conscious effort to think about what I’m recycling before I do it.

Recycling is a big one. And it does take up a lot of my brain power. Are you thinking about what you’re recycling? Because as it turns out, it’s more complicated than it seems.

What I’m about to dive into might be common sense to some people. I'm going to talk about food particles, paper and bottle caps to be specific. If you already know these things, great! But it's always a good reminder. It’s important to know what exactly you’re throwing out, because one bad piece of trash can ruin the whole batch of recycling.

Any tiny bit of food left in a can, on a paper towel or plate, or on food packaging renders that item completely UNrecyclable. Food cannot be recycled (obviously). This means it’s important to take time to FULLY clean out all your containers or wipe down aluminum foil before tossing it. It also means not trying to recycle used paper towels, plates or pizza boxes because - yup - they’re NOT recyclable. You can’t scrub the pizza grease from the box, so even if the material of the box is recyclable, after that pizza is in there, that is just plain old trash. This is called recycling contamination and is very annoying for the whole process!

To avoid washing things out, consider reusable cups, utensils and plates EVEN when you’re expecting company. Easier said than done I know, especially if you don’t have a dishwasher, but worth the effort.

Depositing different kinds of waste into the same waste container makes the whole recycling process much more difficult. Single-stream recycling (as opposed to those confusing separated bins you can find in Whole Foods) leaves the actual sorting to a waste disposal company, which can be unreliable. The convenience factor of one recycling bin to rule them all is what keeps single-stream recycling so common. So when it comes to food waste, our recycling is very easily contaminated.

I personally have a big recycling bin in the back of my current apartment building. I find relying on my entire apartment building to recycle correctly kind of frustrating. So what can you do but hope everyone knows how to recycle? Or spread the word (what I’m doing here in this blog post)?

I was shocked to hear a couple years ago that not all paper can be recycled. I feel like one of the first things you learn about recycling is that paper is always to be recycled. This is untrue.

A big one is colored paper. The dyes run into other recycled paper at the recycling center and deem the results unacceptable. It’s kind of like putting a red sock into your white load of laundry. There is a de-inking process for some colored papers, like post-its, but for the most part, colored paper is unrecyclable.

This is important to note in an office environment where you have one trash bin and one recycling. I spent minutes sitting in front of both with a giant pile of paper in my hands trying to decide where to put it.

Bright neon or dark colored papers are a big no. HOWEVER, if you tear a little bit and you can see the inside is white, it is OK to recycle. It’s best to stick to pastel colored paper for all your poster/flyer/pamphlet making needs. And it’s easier on the eyes anyway…

Whenever I’m recycling a glass or plastic bottle I find myself, again, pausing in front of the bin for several minutes. I remember hearing once not all caps can be recycled, but I’d like to clear the air here once and for all.

The two big mysteries I solved from my research were what to do with metal bottle caps from glass bottles and jars, and what to do with plastic caps from plastic bottles.

For the most part, recycling plants prefer you to recycle your plastic bottle with the cap on. In the past, plastic recycling technology was not advanced enough to recycle the material in bottle caps. But that technology has changed and improved. It is now requested that you recycle your bottles with the plastic cap on.

You’ll notice some plastic bottle caps are made from a different kind of plastic than the bottle. Even in these instances it is OK to recycle the cap and bottle together. Caps can be made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP) - this is usually identifiable by a number “2” or a number “5” respectively. They are separated from bottle plastic in the recycling process. After being broken up into tiny plastic bits and washed, PET plastic sinks while the PP and HDPE floats, and then they are all recycled into new items.

Although a way better way to avoid this plastic confusion altogether is to use a REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE.

So when it comes to glass bottles with metal caps (beer and tejava come to mind), the process is a little different. Glass containers of any kind (bottles and jars), can be dropped into the recycling bin lid-less.

We already know metal is recyclable but in the sorting process, metal can get mixed up in places it doesn’t belong. It is generally preferred to take metal lids and caps to a metal recycler. This sounds like a pain, I know. But I’ve started to collect washed metal recycling (including my old reusable water bottles) in a separate bag which I will eventually take to a metal recycling plant. In some cases they even buy the materials off of you. Did someone say side hustle?

I hope these not-so-quick tips are as helpful to you on your recycling journey as they were to me. I feel like a much better person (and champion for the environment) for knowing what I’m talking about when it comes to the recycling bin. And we all just want to feel good about ourselves right?

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