Quantcast

Are You Making These 7 Common Recycling Mistakes?

It took a long, long time, but curbside recycling has finally become commonplace in most U.S. communities. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans create 251 million tons of waste every year.

We say that we “throw away” much of this waste, but of course, there is no away. Most of it (around 135 million tons) ends up buried in a landfill somewhere, where it takes centuries if not thousands of years to degrade, potentially leaching nasty chemicals into our soil and water supply.

Here’s the sad part: According to Keep America Beautiful, the recyclable materials in the U.S. waste stream would generate over $7 billion if they were recycled. That’s equivalent to Donald Trump’s net worth. In order to stop the flow of valuable materials to the landfill, we have to recycle.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

If you’re a regular participant in your community’s recycling program, you’re probably feeling pretty pleased with yourself right now. Not so fast. In order to get the most out of these reusable waste materials, we not only have to recycle, we have to recycle properly. That’s right, there are rules to this recycling game, and unfortunately, many of us aren’t following them. Below is a list of common recycling mistakes, along with information about why it’s so important to get it right–for your recycler, your community and your world.

7 Recycling Mistakes You’re Probably Making

 

1. Separating (or not)—Is your recycling program single stream or dual-stream? Do you know the difference? Single stream recycling allows paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal to be mixed together for pickup. Dual stream recycling is also referred to as source separated recycling. This means keeping the fiber component—paper and cardboard—separate from containers, including glass and plastic containers and cans. There are pros and cons to both methods. But separating (if you don’t have to) or not separating (if you’re supposed to) just makes things more difficult for those on the other end of your recycling bin.

2. Including plastic bags—It is very rare for a local recycler to accept plastic bags. Plastic bag markets require that these materials be clean, dry and empty. Once they go in a recycling bin, they definitely do not meet the first two criteria. Solving this problem is easy: a) don’t use plastic bags and b) keep bags separate and return them to a local grocery store that accepts them for recycling (look for a bin near the front door).

3. Leaving lids on plastic containers—While an increasing number of plastics are now recyclable (you should still check the number on the bottom against your local program rules), many people fail to realize that plastic caps are NOT recyclable and are a significant contaminant, both on and off the bottle. Left on, they often trap liquid, which is a contaminant. Separate them and throw them away. Always make sure bottles and glasses are empty and rinsed.

4. Including non-recyclable glassAll glass (or glasslike materials) are not created equal. Translucent bottles and jars are good to go. Ceramic dishes, china plates or cups, mirrors, laboratory glassware, light bulbs, Pyrex, porcelain and window glass are NOT. These materials have a different melting point and chemical composition from container glass. Seeing just one of these items in a load of container class can cause it to be rejected.

5. Food-soaked cartons/packages—“Leave the grease-soaked pizza box and oily Chinese takeout carton (and anything similar) out of the recycling bin,” explains the Fairport-East Rochester Post. “Ditto for dirty paper napkins. You can, however, tear off and recycle the unsoiled top of a pizza box.” When it comes to recycling, any type of contamination is a no-no. That’s why it’s so important to clean the things that can be cleaned (aluminum, plastic and glass containers).

6. Removing the labels from bottles and cans—Check with your local recycler, but in most cases this is an unnecessary step. Ha! I bet you didn’t expect that one. Save yourself some time, and toss ‘em in the bin, labels and all. Same thing goes for staples or other metal fasteners in paper and cardboard.

7. Shredded paper—“Shredded paper is too small to sort—the pieces literally fall through the cracks of the sorting machines and end up all over the floor of the facility, or worse, in with the glass,” explains Go Green Woolridge. Some recycling centers will accept shredded paper if it is contained in a paper bag and labeled “shredded paper.” And while we’re on the topic of paper, be sure to consult your recycler’s preferences when it comes to where paper should be placed. As this blogger found out, sometimes placing it in the bin with the other recyclables is a no-no.

Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An aerial view of the Kudala Sangama submerged in floodwaters about 460 kms of the South Indian city of Bangalore on Aug. 10. Floods have displaced hundreds of thousands across much of India with the southern state of Kerala worst hit, authorities said on Aug. 10. STR / AFP / Getty Images

The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

Read More Show Less
The Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of air pollution. TVA / GPA Photo Archive / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Tweeting that the U.S. has the cleanest air in the world does not make it so. Not only do we rank 10th, but a new study says that after steady improvement during the Obama-era, air pollution has gotten worse while Donald Trump has been president.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
In this Oct. 7 handout photo from the Aracaju Municipal Press Office, workers are removing oil from Viral Beach, in Aracaju, Brazil. The spill has been polluting Brazil's beaches since early September. Aracaju Municipal Press Office / AP

More than 1,000 miles of shoreline in Brazil are now contaminated by a mysterious oil spill. that has lasted for weeks as the country struggles to clean what may be its largest oil spill in history.

Read More Show Less
Sunset with crepuscular rays over downtown Miami as seen from Miami Beach, Florida. Diana Robinson / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Youth activists rallying in front of Miami Beach's City Hall successfully campaigned for the coastal city to declare a climate emergency, the Miami Herald reported.

Read More Show Less
Nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants released by diesel vehicles are a major source of air pollution in London. Jack Taylor / Stringer / Getty Images

On days where air pollution is higher, hundreds of people across nine major cities in England are suffering from more potentially fatal cardiac arrests or heading to the hospital for strokes or severe asthma attacks, according to new research from King's College in London.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A diet high in fish and vegetables can help keep your gut healthy. Linda Raymond / E+ / Getty Images

By Heather Cruickshank

Trillions of bacteria and other microbes live in the human digestive system. Together, they form a community that's known as the gut microbiota.

Many bacteria in the microbiota play important roles in human health, helping to metabolize food, strengthen intestinal integrity and protect against disease.

Read More Show Less
The message of the global movement to ban fracking and get off fossil fuels envisions a different future, one that starts with cutting off pollution at the source. cta88 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Wenonah Hauter

Donald Trump's scheduled visit to a fracking industry gathering in Pittsburgh this week is a hugely symbolic moment for the 2020 election campaign, as well as the urgent battle to contain climate catastrophe.

Read More Show Less
Animals most targeted by the fur industry include minks, foxes and rabbits. Hal Trachtenberg / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Macy's announced Monday that it will stop selling fur by 2021, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less