FREE U.S. SHIPPING
ALL ORDERS IN CONTINENTAL U.S.
ZERO WASTE PACKAGING
PLASTIC-FREE SHIPPING MATERIALS

As someone who aspires to produce “zero” waste, I can find myself relying on my recycling bin more than I should. 

While my household trash has dwindled, my blue bin is almost always full. And when I do have something to toss, and it seems like it should be recyclable but am unsure, I most often will add it to recycling and hope for the best. In my mind, it’s better to send the item in question to a place where it might be recycled or composted versus straight to landfill...right?! 

With the growing spotlight on recycling, and especially recycling contamination, it got me to wonder—am I doing it right, or am I part of the problem? According to the Waste Management, one out of every four items that ends up in the blue bin doesn’t belong. And China, previously one of the world’s largest importers of recycling waste, recently set strict limits on what they will accept to reduce “yang laji,” or foreign trash—throwing a major curve ball at the U.S. recycling industry

“Wishful” or “aspirational recycling” happens when people mean well, but actually do more harm than good. Your household trash might be near empty, but placing the wrong item in recycling can contaminate the entire pile, and potentially an entire truckload, sending it straight to landfill. Recycling contamination also can break recycling equipment, slow down operations, create unsafe work conditions (especially when sharp or hazardous materials are involved), and can increase service costs.  

For this reason, many municipalities have pleaded with customers—"when in doubt, throw it out." I decided to look into some of the most common offenders contributing to recycling contamination, and admit that I found more than a few I was guilty of. 

So, learn from my mistakes and stop wishful recycling by avoiding these 11 common offenders:

1. Plastic Bags: You’d be surprised how many people add soft plastic bags to their recycling bin, or even bag their recyclables in plastic before adding them to their cart. The problem with soft plastic bags is that they can clog machines and slow down operations while workers remove the bags by hand. Bring your own reusable tote with you when you’re out shopping to eliminate the need for a plastic bag. You can also recycle soft plastic at many grocery stores. Plastic Film Recycling provides a handy directory by zip code to find a drop-off location near you. 

2. Pizza Boxes: If it’s got food stains or grease on it, it doesn’t belong in recycling. Lucky for us pizza lovers, cardboard boxes can be composted as can other food-soiled paper, so long as they’re not lined with plastic. A good example is take-out boxes—check the bottom of the box to see if it is labeled as compostable. Boxes with a shiny interior are most often lined with plastic and cannot be recycled or composted, unless your local municipality accepts them. Napkins and paper towels should always go in the compost.  

3. Gift Wrap: Shiny, metallic wrapping paper and decorative ribbons do not belong in recycling. Glittery cards are also non-recyclable and can contaminate an entire bin of paper. When wrapping a gift, opt for an unlaminated paper like newspaper, paper bags or butcher paper. A good way to test if your gift paper is recyclable is to crumple it into a ball—if it stays bunched up, it’s most likely recyclable. If not, re-use it or throw it away. 

4. Small metal bits: While bits of metal like soda can tabs and aluminum candy wrappers are technically recyclable, their small size makes them hard to detect and they often jam recycling machinery. To avoid this issue, keep soda tabs attached to the can or drop them inside the can when you’re done. Save bits of aluminum foil until it forms a large ball or place them inside an aluminum can and crimp the top shut before you place the entire can into recycling. 

5. Receipts: While the thermal cash register receipts you receive from a grocery store or boutique are made from paper, they also contain Bisphenol A, aka BPA, the nasty cancer causing chemical. When you recycle receipts, the BPA that they contain gets processed with other paper pulp and contaminates the recycled paper products that are being produced. It’s best to ask for no receipt when you’re shopping, or throw it away and wash your hands. 

6. Food Residue: Cleaning out food and beverage containers before you recycle them is just as important as placing them in the right bin. Food residue and liquids left in take out containers, peanut butter jars and even wine bottles can contaminate an entire truckload of recyclables. Containers don’t have to be perfectly clean, but they should be rinsed and washed with soap if they’re greasy. 

7. Broken Crockery: We’re all prone to breaking things. Unfortunately, broken plates, ceramics, porcelain, mirrors, light bulbs, cups, wine glasses and pyrex have different melting points and chemical compositions compared to recyclable glass and belong in the trash. Donate plates, cups and glasses in good working condition, and reuse broken crockery for another purpose at home or a craft project. 

8. Diapers: Yuck, and no! Hopefully, it’s no surprise that dirty diapers and sanitary products have no place in the recycling bin. Whether they are clean or dirty, they go in the trash. There are some compostable diapers, but most municipalities do not accept them in municipal compost bins. Look into a compostable diaper service that drops off clean diapers and picks up dirty diapers to compost at a dedicated facility, or switch to reusable cloth diapers and reusable pads or a menstrual cup

9. Shredded Paper: This one surprised me. Shredded documents and small bits of paper are too small to be valuable to recyclers and fall through the cracks or can even clog equipment. The good news is shredded paper can be composted! If composting isn’t an option, you can collect shreds in a paper bag, staple it closed and place it into recycling. 

10. Coffee Cups: Most to-go coffee cups are lined with a plastic film that makes them liquid proof, and difficult to recycle. The plastic lid might be recyclable, but it will depend on what type of plastic is accepted your local municipality. The paper heat sleeve that goes around the cup to protect your hand is really the only part of a to-go coffee cup that is likely recyclable or compostable. Better yet, say no to disposable cups and bring your own reusable coffee cup with you when you’re on the go. 

11. Paperboard Boxes: Freezer food boxes and ice cream cartons contain a plastic polymer to prevent freezer burn. Unfortunately, this plastic coating prevents the box or carton from breaking down in the recycling process. Gable-topped milk and juice cartons are also made from a paper/plastic hybrid to prevent leaks and shelf stable cartons (sold in a rectangular box) contain additional plastic and aluminum layers, making them even more difficult to recycle. While some municipalities accept cartons for recycling, many do not, so it is best to check. 

Hopefully, this list of recycling offenders has provided some clarity about what does and does not belong in your blue bin. With this new awareness, I’m committed to throw things in the trash when it’s unclear where it belongs, as much as it may pain me.

I do want to emphasize that there can be huge variations in recycling policies between cities, even within a few miles. The best thing to do is check your local public works website or give them a call. Some cities also offer tours of their recycling facilities, which sounds like good “clean” family fun to me! 

October 10, 2019 translation missing: en.blogs.article.author

Comments

Gina

Gina said:

Deb, it is untrue that dark glass can’t be recycled. What is true is that dark glass can’t be recycled into clear glass, it can be amber or green glass again.

Tim

Tim said:

Our recycler does accept paper milk and juice cartons even if coated, and asks us to leave the plastic caps on, and rinse.

Jeff Braimes

Jeff Braimes said:

thanks for this, I learned a few

CARS

CARS said:

Helpful info. Even so, there’s still lots of confusion and “what ifs” and “what abouts.” I don’t know that I ever received a list of acceptables/non-acceptables from Republic Services. Even so, it’s way past time to be updated.

Tea Bag

Tea Bag said:

Did you ever consider reading number 4 again, then number 9, and asking what’s wrong with this picture?

Bob

Bob said:

Funny thing about China getting cranky about not accepting “foreign trash.” Truth is, much of the cheap, wasteful, single-use junk that fills our trash and recycle bins was actually made in China in the first place.

Sure, Americans have been sucked in by cheap and disposable externalized-cost conveniences, but much of China’s rapid economic expansion has been fueled by producing that stuff at the cheapest possible price.

Perhaps if they were made to take back the waste, then China wouldn’t be so eager to make it all and load it onto east-bound cargo ships in the first place.

Jean

Jean said:

Just as important as knowing what to recycle is buying products made from recycled materials whenever possible. For example, when you are buying household paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissues, etc.) or paper for your printer or copier, look for those made from recycled paper. (The higher the post-consumer recycled content, the better.)

Allison

Allison said:

In my area (west coast of British Columbia Canada) I can recycle pizza boxes…. I am allowed one can of garbage per week as per my contract with my garbage contractor. So I am vigilant about my recycling and most of my “waste” is recycled. Or composted. I use my own shopping bags. I use my own mesh produce bags at the grocery store. I buy my eggs that come packaged in cardboard, not styro. I buy products in glass or canned packages. I go to farmer’s markets in season. I shop local. I reuse, recycle and buy clothes in thrift stores, and donate my old clothes. I drive an older smaller car and use less gas. I walk more. I take transit. I wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat. I put in more efficient windows and a hot water tank in my house. (in hindsight I should have done a hot water on demand system, but oh well).

culprit

culprit said:

If one unrecyclable item truly “contaminates” a whole truckload, then there’s no point in recycling. I can guarantee you that no matter how exacting YOU may be, everyone else isn’t. I think you’re overstating it. I get it, don’t throw trash in the recycling. But the scare-tactic canards are not helpful.

Suzanne

Suzanne said:

Thanks for the good information. Don’t forget about batteries. They should be recycled (and lithium batteries should have tape across the nodes first) wherever possible. Our curbside recycling takes them, as does as the recycling office. There are many stores that have bins for recycling dead batteries, such as office supply stores and big box stores such as Target Please don’t throw them in the trash.

Myriam Soler

Myriam Soler said:

This information is terrible confusing. So, plastic bags, pizza and paperboard boxes do NOT go into the recycling bin???!!! It’s like I need to take a course to be able to do this right. Truly irritating.

Ffrreedd

Ffrreedd said:

I saw at the grocery store “Recycled toilet paper”. All I can say is “EWWWW”. Some things should be only be used once.

Liz Pop

Liz Pop said:

I’ve always wondered about plastic bottle caps. Are they recyclable?

Also, this advice is helpful but it’s always best to check with your municipality for specific guidelines.

Steve Lawson

Steve Lawson said:

[paper shreads in a paper bad, stapled shut]: Won’t those staples pose a problem? Where are they going? Is the final recycled product going to include them—staple-studded paper towels, or the like?
Brad

Brad said:

I suggest everyone just look into the recycling rules for their own community and avoid reading blogs like this, which by no means can be considered generally accurate.

For example, putting anything into the recycling bins inside bags, is a big NO here. The recycling truck staff sees bags inside the recycling dumpster, it will not be taken. They don’t know what is inside the bags or whether someone has thrown their garbage in the wrong bin.

And as others have noted, many items this blogger claims are not recyclable are accepted in many communities.

And how ridiculous is it to say that store receipts will cause cancer and caution people to wash their hands after touching them. I’ve certainly never heard of cashiers having high incidence of cancer caused by touching receipts. Claptrap.

There are absolutely no sources cited here, which is a huge red flag. The author could have just made this up, for all anyone knows.

Bj

Bj said:

Sorry, DK Holland, NYC does NOT deal with their trash locally. They ship it by rail to western New York where it fouls the air and causes many problems in other communities. EVERY community needs to find a way to deal with their own trash, recyclables, and compost.

Michael

Michael said:

The best thing we can do for the environment is to have no children. Recycle an unwanted one by adopting if you must.

Linda Hollingsed

Linda Hollingsed said:

I save all our bottle caps from glass bottles. When I have a whole bunch of them, I take them to the recycling center and go over and find a washing machine or some big metal container that they are going to recycle for its metal. I throw them in the washing machine. Hopefully these get recycled and don’t cause any jamming.

Karen

Karen said:

Please correct this article. Or remove. NYC takes pizza boxes, for example. Our nyc green group saw this and many are now confused. It’s important to check your sources and print accurate info.

Duh

Duh said:

These are all standard recyling guidelines. Most recycle bins are clearly labeled or have signs. If people take the time to read them they will see all of this. When I was in college we were constantly hearing pleas to use the garbage when in doubt. The recyle bins were all right next to garbage containers. If anything with food or drink touches recyling the entire bin is contaminated and goes to the landfill. Recycling facilities are always pleading this, but people hear what they want to hear. They would rather feel good about themselves and think they are hopefully helping instead of contaminating and turning recycables into garbage. I’ve heard these pleas from recycling facilities for over 20 years in every city I’ve lived. They all face the same problems of people not listening.

Laurie

Laurie said:

Only 9% of all plastic ever produced since the beginning of making plastic has been recycled.

Sweden is the only country that has become so efficient at recycling that they ran out of their own recycling material and started to import their neighbors recyclables.

We are choking the shit out the planet with our waste. And any solution that involves making the consumer responsible for recycling instead of holding industry accountable to stop all production of waste that can not be composted is not a solution at all; it is merely passing the responsibility onto the individual so industries can continue to produce waste.

Office paper and as mentioned with receipts and faxing paper, as well as the ink that goes onto them is not something you want in your compost. It is toxic material and should not be produced to begin with.

Laurie

Laurie said:

Only 9% of all plastic ever produced since the beginning of making plastic has been recycled.

Sweden is the only country that has become so efficient at recycling that they ran out of their own recycling material and started to import their neighbors recyclables.

We are choking the shit out the planet with our waste. And any solution that involves making the consumer responsible for recycling instead of holding industry accountable to stop all production of waste that can not be composted is not a solution at all; it is merely passing the responsibility onto the individual so industries can continue to produce waste.

Office paper and as mentioned with receipts and faxing paper, as well as the ink that goes onto them is not something you want in your compost. It is toxic material and should not be produced to begin with.

David

David said:

We just got a new recycling company in my neighborhood. aside from the obvious paper and cardboard and aluminum, we’re restricted to plastics 1 and 2 only, no pizza boxes, and clear glass only. It’s ridiculous.

Christine Harris

Christine Harris said:

Why don’t we do what so many other countries do, charge for a plastic bag, say 10 cents. Hit people in the pocket books, that would wake them up. Just go to the grocery store and look at the plastic bags in people’s trolleys, I have used the same shopping bags for over 15 years (brought them from England where recycling is mandatory). They are ‘indistructable’ and grocery stores sell them for about a dollar. Seems like a no brainier. This goes for retail stores too. Fortunately the upmarket stores give you paper. Example: Trader Joe’s.

Nancy

Nancy said:

Diapers – Not something most people would want to handle. But if you have a planted area that dries out to quickly? You can cut the diapers open and put the moisture collecting filling into your planted area.

In Florida I had mostly sand and coral rock to grow in. I composted big… Years of kitchen waste from a kitchen I worked in and from my own kitchen. Tons of leaves haued home as well as cardboard. I would dig a large hole and put a compost collection container on top of it. . .I would then use the dirt to raise my property level. 30+ years of this and I left the next owner with lots of SOIL! Lots of fruit trees.
Hannah Fox

Hannah Fox said:

Where I live in the Netherlands, we have many types of refuse. We can compost at no charge, recycle glass/cardboard for free, are charged (and paid back) for a deposit on glass and plastic drink containers, and pay to throw away trash. It seems ludicrous when I compare it to the one kind of easily accessible waste removal available where I used to live in Chicago (my building had no recycling or composting).

Linda

Linda said:

For those who wonder about BPA in receipts: the chemical is absorbed through the skin and used by the body as a “wrong” hormone messenger. Cancers caused by it are hormone stimulated. But more immediately, it is causing infertility in both men and women. Look it up before assuming the writer is wrong.

Pam

Pam said:

I like so many of you try to recycle as much as possible. However, I am tired of the manufacturers taking little responsibility! I now contact the manufactures by email which is always listed on the package. Why are most packages now made of non-recyclable plastic bags with a zip lock top? When I purchased my organically grown, non-gmo, sustainably resourced almond flour I asked the manufacturer “Why?” and I was sent a $.25 off coupon. I no longer buy their product. A famous chocolate manufacturer was asked if the chocolate chip bag was recyclable as there was no info and I was told I could use the bag for “household or craft projects”…huh?

As consumers we have very little choice when we walk into the store and are beholding to the choices made by the manufacturers. Contact them. Let them know you are paying attention. They should be part of the solution, not the problem! If consumers cannot pressure manufacturers to make more sustainable changes to their packaging so the average American can easily recycle then I’ll be the first to advocate for laws to force them to use recyclable packaging. This is our only planet! This garbage cycle must be broken!

Janine

Janine said:

Where I used to live in CA, plastic bags were recyclable. Those are some of the worst offenders as far as I’m concerned so people need to confirm what is recyclable as even some parts of CA didn’t accept plastic bags. Recyclable bags are definitely the way to go though

Sonny Mayer

Sonny Mayer said:

o.k.

Kelly

Kelly said:

Hey Dave! Wash out or at least rinse out your cat food cans. Make sure there’s no food residue and you can recycle them :).

Janet Larson

Janet Larson said:

It concerns me when people complain that they’d have to take a course in order to recycle correctly. Most communities have lists of things that are acceptable based on the collector’s ability to sell it. Our city distributes them and posts them on line. I agree that it’s a pain to have to take your plastic film to another place: the library, Jewel or the Ecology Center in Evanston, IL. collects ours.
We can stop purchasing bottled water, demand from legislators that packaging be environmentally friendly, compost(my condo of 69 units has one), consume and waste less, think before you buy more stuff.
Purchasing at consignment and thrift shops has already been mentioned, something I do.
Take your sturdy cotton grocery bags with you to the store. It’s really an easy habit to get into.

Bruce

Bruce said:

My understanding is that thermally printed receipts, (not all receipts fall in this category), from gas stations and many stores, contain several chemicals that are endocrine disruptors. Cancer is only one of many concerns here. Other’s concerns include: early puberty, infertility, inappropriate hair loss and growth, obesity, low energy, brain fog, and many other problems. Why do they do it? Because they make more money on it and can get away with it, particularly with increased deregulation by FDA and EPA. But of course, corporations who make potentially toxic products will always put the consumers health above profits. History has proven that right? Many plastics contain BPA and other endocrine disrupters as well. Recycling is generally a great thing but is grossly insufficient in dealing with our waste problems, particularly regarding plastics. The first question is do you really need the product? or are you just used to the convenience that plastics provide? The next question is can you get the same or similar product without plastic (e.g. in a glass bottle or jar)? Another question is can you re-use it? or re-purpose it? Hundreds of products that we are now used to, I would even say “addicted” to, are very convenient but their use is totally unsustainable. Every choice has a consequence. We are all in this together and our choices effect our neighbors, our children, and our grandchildren. Every infant born in the USA has 30+ toxic chemicals in their blood stream when they take their first breath, and the average 12 year old has thousands of plastic micro-particles in their body. If you don’t believe me do a little research.

Franciscus

Franciscus said:

I collect tabs from aluminum cans and when I have a container full, bring it to the local legion.
They can be used to purchase wheelchairs.

Rebekah

Rebekah said:

A recycle rule to live by When in doubt throw it out.

David

David said:

Wow. All that composing advice. Any clue what minuscule percentage of people in the US live where that is even possible? Do you think that NYC, LA, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, San Francisco, etc, etc have composing options? We live in the Sierra Nevada and have zero ability to compost. Our refuse and recycling services provide zero information on the subject and we lack the property to do it ourselves. We also don’t have any place to offload the composted material. Telling people to compost rather than recycle is pretty much the same as telling them to eat or or burn it.

After reading this, it seems that even attempting to recycle is likely to do more harm than good.

Tom Agamenoni

Tom Agamenoni said:

May of you in your comments have stated that your waste system allows you to recycle items on the author’s list of non recyclables. Please heed the author’s comment that this list may vary in different regions of the country. As a former recycling careerist, it’s all about distance to markets. One of my successors stated that”it is our mission to recycle everything we possibly can, but it is not our mission to recycle items that will bankrupt us.

Tom Agamenoni

Tom Agamenoni said:

May of you in your comments have stated that your waste system allows you to recycle items on the author’s list of non recyclables. Please heed the author’s comment that this list may vary in different regions of the country. As a former recycling careerist, it’s all about distance to markets. One of my successors stated that”it is our mission to recycle everything we possibly can, but it is not our mission to recycle items that will bankrupt us.

JON DOER

JON DOER said:

We are heavy recyclers. But what is accepted? I wish the waste companies would post photos of what is good and bad, on their site. That would stop a lot of confusion.
I had a bunch of AA batteries. What do you do with them? Waste Mgmt wouldn’t really say. Not even the manager! I called a battery store. They said they contain no mercury, and can be tossed. Sounded risky. I finally packed them into a semi-secure plastic bin, with a screw-on lid – and tossed them! No one seems to accept or recycle them anymore. But it would be nice to know!

Jennie Clarke

Jennie Clarke said:

While I agree that aspirational recycling causes waste, please, please update this article with a statement that this list is very, very specific to one recycling service! My local service DOES recycle pizza boxes with reasonable amounts of grease stains, receipt paper, and frozen food boxes. Other places take milk cartons and juice boxes, while mine cannot. In short rely on info from your specific recycling service, not from generalized info!

Grandma Jill

Grandma Jill said:

Recycling programs are so dependent on the system your community uses. In Calgary we can put soft stretchy plastic in the blue bins preferable bundled together in a soft plastic bag so they don’t fly around inside the sorting plant. https://www.calgary.ca/UEP/WRS/Pages/Recycling-information/Residential-services/Blue-cart-recycling/What-Can-Be-Recycled.aspx

Leslie

Leslie said:

I didn’t read all the comments but I have heard that light plastic bags can be recycled at grocery stores that recycle plastic grocery bags…hope that’s the case. Dry cleaning bags and the plastic bags newspapers are delivered in…

Darlene Garvais

Darlene Garvais said:

Also, gloves are not good to recycle-especially when tainted.

For those concerned about using precious water to clean out containers, don’t forget that you can use nonrecyclable paper litter (like receipts and used paper towels) and soft film plastic to wipe out containers of most contents before giving them a rinse in a tub of discard water. We are agreed that It isn’t helpful to run these things under a stream of clean water from the faucet.

Josée

Josée said:

Thank you for this article. It does make me wonder, however — if unrinsed coffee cups and food containers cannot be recycled, why do fast-food restaurants and food courts have recycling bins?

Conrad S.

Conrad S. said:

BPA-free thermal printing paper is available. A company I manage pays more to use it—and sell it to customers—than the cheap stuff. I don’t know what Walmart and Target use, but I can imagine what Dollar Tree uses.

Lindsay Childs

Lindsay Childs said:

Take a look at an article recently in washingtonpost.com:

Climate Solutions
Revolutionary recycling? A new technology turns everyday trash into plastic treasure.
By Jim Morrison and Shoshana Kordova Photographs by Jonas Opperskalski Nov. 18, 2019

An Israeli company, UBQ Materials, apparently has a process to turn almost all trash into plastic-type material usable for things like trays and packing crates. Our local recycler in the Richmond, VA area has purchased 2000 of their recycling bins. Hopefully they are looking to see if the process makes economic sense for them.

Stan Rarick

Stan Rarick said:

Test your batteries before recycling – I have found that up to 50% of discarded batteries are still good. What I found was that typically only one battery in a set is truly exhausted. Replace that one and usually you’re almost as good as new.

Megan Smith

Megan Smith said:

In case you wondered those white & blue plastic envelopes that amazon sends a lot of stuff in can be recycled at places that take plastic film but cannot go into curb side recycling. I think this is the case in most cities too though possibly your city takes them.

Sharon McAuliffe

Sharon McAuliffe said:

I toured our local recycling facility this past year and learned a great deal about recycling, mainly, that the process is VERY localized, very geographically fragmented. Each facility has different equipment and different capabilities, and specifies what items it can/will or cannot/will not accept. Your article provides a great deal of useful information, but each person should contact their local recycling facility to get the current list. Just as one example, my municipality advised about two years ago that they would no longer accept ANY glass items for recycling. Then when I toured the facility last year, lo and behold, they were processing glass. When I called my municipality, they said that yes, they were again accepting glass, but they had decided not to tell the city residents that they could start putting glass in the bins again. Our county is forming a committee made up of waste management and recycling stakeholders, community members and representatives of local municipalities to oversee and guide county recycling efforts. I hope to be selected to participate.

Sharon McAuliffe

Sharon McAuliffe said:

One more thing…Now that I am a bit more “woke” about recycling, I have begun to notice that plastic take-out containers, which often come in two parts, sometimes have the triangle recycling symbol only on one half, usually the bottom, but not on the other half. Our local recycling facility uses laser readers to identify and sort plastic recyclables, meaning that the unmarked half of the container is not recyclable, though it is made of the same material. We have a LONG way to go toward an efficient, cost-effective recycling ecosystem.

Leave a comment

Comments

Gina

Gina said:

Deb, it is untrue that dark glass can’t be recycled. What is true is that dark glass can’t be recycled into clear glass, it can be amber or green glass again.

Tim

Tim said:

Our recycler does accept paper milk and juice cartons even if coated, and asks us to leave the plastic caps on, and rinse.

Jeff Braimes

Jeff Braimes said:

thanks for this, I learned a few

CARS

CARS said:

Helpful info. Even so, there’s still lots of confusion and “what ifs” and “what abouts.” I don’t know that I ever received a list of acceptables/non-acceptables from Republic Services. Even so, it’s way past time to be updated.

Tea Bag

Tea Bag said:

Did you ever consider reading number 4 again, then number 9, and asking what’s wrong with this picture?

Bob

Bob said:

Funny thing about China getting cranky about not accepting “foreign trash.” Truth is, much of the cheap, wasteful, single-use junk that fills our trash and recycle bins was actually made in China in the first place.

Sure, Americans have been sucked in by cheap and disposable externalized-cost conveniences, but much of China’s rapid economic expansion has been fueled by producing that stuff at the cheapest possible price.

Perhaps if they were made to take back the waste, then China wouldn’t be so eager to make it all and load it onto east-bound cargo ships in the first place.

Jean

Jean said:

Just as important as knowing what to recycle is buying products made from recycled materials whenever possible. For example, when you are buying household paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissues, etc.) or paper for your printer or copier, look for those made from recycled paper. (The higher the post-consumer recycled content, the better.)

Allison

Allison said:

In my area (west coast of British Columbia Canada) I can recycle pizza boxes…. I am allowed one can of garbage per week as per my contract with my garbage contractor. So I am vigilant about my recycling and most of my “waste” is recycled. Or composted. I use my own shopping bags. I use my own mesh produce bags at the grocery store. I buy my eggs that come packaged in cardboard, not styro. I buy products in glass or canned packages. I go to farmer’s markets in season. I shop local. I reuse, recycle and buy clothes in thrift stores, and donate my old clothes. I drive an older smaller car and use less gas. I walk more. I take transit. I wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat. I put in more efficient windows and a hot water tank in my house. (in hindsight I should have done a hot water on demand system, but oh well).

culprit

culprit said:

If one unrecyclable item truly “contaminates” a whole truckload, then there’s no point in recycling. I can guarantee you that no matter how exacting YOU may be, everyone else isn’t. I think you’re overstating it. I get it, don’t throw trash in the recycling. But the scare-tactic canards are not helpful.

Suzanne

Suzanne said:

Thanks for the good information. Don’t forget about batteries. They should be recycled (and lithium batteries should have tape across the nodes first) wherever possible. Our curbside recycling takes them, as does as the recycling office. There are many stores that have bins for recycling dead batteries, such as office supply stores and big box stores such as Target Please don’t throw them in the trash.

Myriam Soler

Myriam Soler said:

This information is terrible confusing. So, plastic bags, pizza and paperboard boxes do NOT go into the recycling bin???!!! It’s like I need to take a course to be able to do this right. Truly irritating.

Ffrreedd

Ffrreedd said:

I saw at the grocery store “Recycled toilet paper”. All I can say is “EWWWW”. Some things should be only be used once.

Liz Pop

Liz Pop said:

I’ve always wondered about plastic bottle caps. Are they recyclable?

Also, this advice is helpful but it’s always best to check with your municipality for specific guidelines.

Steve Lawson

Steve Lawson said:

[paper shreads in a paper bad, stapled shut]: Won’t those staples pose a problem? Where are they going? Is the final recycled product going to include them—staple-studded paper towels, or the like?
Brad

Brad said:

I suggest everyone just look into the recycling rules for their own community and avoid reading blogs like this, which by no means can be considered generally accurate.

For example, putting anything into the recycling bins inside bags, is a big NO here. The recycling truck staff sees bags inside the recycling dumpster, it will not be taken. They don’t know what is inside the bags or whether someone has thrown their garbage in the wrong bin.

And as others have noted, many items this blogger claims are not recyclable are accepted in many communities.

And how ridiculous is it to say that store receipts will cause cancer and caution people to wash their hands after touching them. I’ve certainly never heard of cashiers having high incidence of cancer caused by touching receipts. Claptrap.

There are absolutely no sources cited here, which is a huge red flag. The author could have just made this up, for all anyone knows.

Bj

Bj said:

Sorry, DK Holland, NYC does NOT deal with their trash locally. They ship it by rail to western New York where it fouls the air and causes many problems in other communities. EVERY community needs to find a way to deal with their own trash, recyclables, and compost.

Michael

Michael said:

The best thing we can do for the environment is to have no children. Recycle an unwanted one by adopting if you must.

Linda Hollingsed

Linda Hollingsed said:

I save all our bottle caps from glass bottles. When I have a whole bunch of them, I take them to the recycling center and go over and find a washing machine or some big metal container that they are going to recycle for its metal. I throw them in the washing machine. Hopefully these get recycled and don’t cause any jamming.

Karen

Karen said:

Please correct this article. Or remove. NYC takes pizza boxes, for example. Our nyc green group saw this and many are now confused. It’s important to check your sources and print accurate info.

Duh

Duh said:

These are all standard recyling guidelines. Most recycle bins are clearly labeled or have signs. If people take the time to read them they will see all of this. When I was in college we were constantly hearing pleas to use the garbage when in doubt. The recyle bins were all right next to garbage containers. If anything with food or drink touches recyling the entire bin is contaminated and goes to the landfill. Recycling facilities are always pleading this, but people hear what they want to hear. They would rather feel good about themselves and think they are hopefully helping instead of contaminating and turning recycables into garbage. I’ve heard these pleas from recycling facilities for over 20 years in every city I’ve lived. They all face the same problems of people not listening.

Laurie

Laurie said:

Only 9% of all plastic ever produced since the beginning of making plastic has been recycled.

Sweden is the only country that has become so efficient at recycling that they ran out of their own recycling material and started to import their neighbors recyclables.

We are choking the shit out the planet with our waste. And any solution that involves making the consumer responsible for recycling instead of holding industry accountable to stop all production of waste that can not be composted is not a solution at all; it is merely passing the responsibility onto the individual so industries can continue to produce waste.

Office paper and as mentioned with receipts and faxing paper, as well as the ink that goes onto them is not something you want in your compost. It is toxic material and should not be produced to begin with.

Laurie

Laurie said:

Only 9% of all plastic ever produced since the beginning of making plastic has been recycled.

Sweden is the only country that has become so efficient at recycling that they ran out of their own recycling material and started to import their neighbors recyclables.

We are choking the shit out the planet with our waste. And any solution that involves making the consumer responsible for recycling instead of holding industry accountable to stop all production of waste that can not be composted is not a solution at all; it is merely passing the responsibility onto the individual so industries can continue to produce waste.

Office paper and as mentioned with receipts and faxing paper, as well as the ink that goes onto them is not something you want in your compost. It is toxic material and should not be produced to begin with.

David

David said:

We just got a new recycling company in my neighborhood. aside from the obvious paper and cardboard and aluminum, we’re restricted to plastics 1 and 2 only, no pizza boxes, and clear glass only. It’s ridiculous.

Christine Harris

Christine Harris said:

Why don’t we do what so many other countries do, charge for a plastic bag, say 10 cents. Hit people in the pocket books, that would wake them up. Just go to the grocery store and look at the plastic bags in people’s trolleys, I have used the same shopping bags for over 15 years (brought them from England where recycling is mandatory). They are ‘indistructable’ and grocery stores sell them for about a dollar. Seems like a no brainier. This goes for retail stores too. Fortunately the upmarket stores give you paper. Example: Trader Joe’s.

Nancy

Nancy said:

Diapers – Not something most people would want to handle. But if you have a planted area that dries out to quickly? You can cut the diapers open and put the moisture collecting filling into your planted area.

In Florida I had mostly sand and coral rock to grow in. I composted big… Years of kitchen waste from a kitchen I worked in and from my own kitchen. Tons of leaves haued home as well as cardboard. I would dig a large hole and put a compost collection container on top of it. . .I would then use the dirt to raise my property level. 30+ years of this and I left the next owner with lots of SOIL! Lots of fruit trees.
Hannah Fox

Hannah Fox said:

Where I live in the Netherlands, we have many types of refuse. We can compost at no charge, recycle glass/cardboard for free, are charged (and paid back) for a deposit on glass and plastic drink containers, and pay to throw away trash. It seems ludicrous when I compare it to the one kind of easily accessible waste removal available where I used to live in Chicago (my building had no recycling or composting).

Linda

Linda said:

For those who wonder about BPA in receipts: the chemical is absorbed through the skin and used by the body as a “wrong” hormone messenger. Cancers caused by it are hormone stimulated. But more immediately, it is causing infertility in both men and women. Look it up before assuming the writer is wrong.

Pam

Pam said:

I like so many of you try to recycle as much as possible. However, I am tired of the manufacturers taking little responsibility! I now contact the manufactures by email which is always listed on the package. Why are most packages now made of non-recyclable plastic bags with a zip lock top? When I purchased my organically grown, non-gmo, sustainably resourced almond flour I asked the manufacturer “Why?” and I was sent a $.25 off coupon. I no longer buy their product. A famous chocolate manufacturer was asked if the chocolate chip bag was recyclable as there was no info and I was told I could use the bag for “household or craft projects”…huh?

As consumers we have very little choice when we walk into the store and are beholding to the choices made by the manufacturers. Contact them. Let them know you are paying attention. They should be part of the solution, not the problem! If consumers cannot pressure manufacturers to make more sustainable changes to their packaging so the average American can easily recycle then I’ll be the first to advocate for laws to force them to use recyclable packaging. This is our only planet! This garbage cycle must be broken!

Janine

Janine said:

Where I used to live in CA, plastic bags were recyclable. Those are some of the worst offenders as far as I’m concerned so people need to confirm what is recyclable as even some parts of CA didn’t accept plastic bags. Recyclable bags are definitely the way to go though

Sonny Mayer

Sonny Mayer said:

o.k.

Kelly

Kelly said:

Hey Dave! Wash out or at least rinse out your cat food cans. Make sure there’s no food residue and you can recycle them :).

Janet Larson

Janet Larson said:

It concerns me when people complain that they’d have to take a course in order to recycle correctly. Most communities have lists of things that are acceptable based on the collector’s ability to sell it. Our city distributes them and posts them on line. I agree that it’s a pain to have to take your plastic film to another place: the library, Jewel or the Ecology Center in Evanston, IL. collects ours.
We can stop purchasing bottled water, demand from legislators that packaging be environmentally friendly, compost(my condo of 69 units has one), consume and waste less, think before you buy more stuff.
Purchasing at consignment and thrift shops has already been mentioned, something I do.
Take your sturdy cotton grocery bags with you to the store. It’s really an easy habit to get into.

Bruce

Bruce said:

My understanding is that thermally printed receipts, (not all receipts fall in this category), from gas stations and many stores, contain several chemicals that are endocrine disruptors. Cancer is only one of many concerns here. Other’s concerns include: early puberty, infertility, inappropriate hair loss and growth, obesity, low energy, brain fog, and many other problems. Why do they do it? Because they make more money on it and can get away with it, particularly with increased deregulation by FDA and EPA. But of course, corporations who make potentially toxic products will always put the consumers health above profits. History has proven that right? Many plastics contain BPA and other endocrine disrupters as well. Recycling is generally a great thing but is grossly insufficient in dealing with our waste problems, particularly regarding plastics. The first question is do you really need the product? or are you just used to the convenience that plastics provide? The next question is can you get the same or similar product without plastic (e.g. in a glass bottle or jar)? Another question is can you re-use it? or re-purpose it? Hundreds of products that we are now used to, I would even say “addicted” to, are very convenient but their use is totally unsustainable. Every choice has a consequence. We are all in this together and our choices effect our neighbors, our children, and our grandchildren. Every infant born in the USA has 30+ toxic chemicals in their blood stream when they take their first breath, and the average 12 year old has thousands of plastic micro-particles in their body. If you don’t believe me do a little research.

Franciscus

Franciscus said:

I collect tabs from aluminum cans and when I have a container full, bring it to the local legion.
They can be used to purchase wheelchairs.

Rebekah

Rebekah said:

A recycle rule to live by When in doubt throw it out.

David

David said:

Wow. All that composing advice. Any clue what minuscule percentage of people in the US live where that is even possible? Do you think that NYC, LA, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, San Francisco, etc, etc have composing options? We live in the Sierra Nevada and have zero ability to compost. Our refuse and recycling services provide zero information on the subject and we lack the property to do it ourselves. We also don’t have any place to offload the composted material. Telling people to compost rather than recycle is pretty much the same as telling them to eat or or burn it.

After reading this, it seems that even attempting to recycle is likely to do more harm than good.

Tom Agamenoni

Tom Agamenoni said:

May of you in your comments have stated that your waste system allows you to recycle items on the author’s list of non recyclables. Please heed the author’s comment that this list may vary in different regions of the country. As a former recycling careerist, it’s all about distance to markets. One of my successors stated that”it is our mission to recycle everything we possibly can, but it is not our mission to recycle items that will bankrupt us.

Tom Agamenoni

Tom Agamenoni said:

May of you in your comments have stated that your waste system allows you to recycle items on the author’s list of non recyclables. Please heed the author’s comment that this list may vary in different regions of the country. As a former recycling careerist, it’s all about distance to markets. One of my successors stated that”it is our mission to recycle everything we possibly can, but it is not our mission to recycle items that will bankrupt us.

JON DOER

JON DOER said:

We are heavy recyclers. But what is accepted? I wish the waste companies would post photos of what is good and bad, on their site. That would stop a lot of confusion.
I had a bunch of AA batteries. What do you do with them? Waste Mgmt wouldn’t really say. Not even the manager! I called a battery store. They said they contain no mercury, and can be tossed. Sounded risky. I finally packed them into a semi-secure plastic bin, with a screw-on lid – and tossed them! No one seems to accept or recycle them anymore. But it would be nice to know!

Jennie Clarke

Jennie Clarke said:

While I agree that aspirational recycling causes waste, please, please update this article with a statement that this list is very, very specific to one recycling service! My local service DOES recycle pizza boxes with reasonable amounts of grease stains, receipt paper, and frozen food boxes. Other places take milk cartons and juice boxes, while mine cannot. In short rely on info from your specific recycling service, not from generalized info!

Grandma Jill

Grandma Jill said:

Recycling programs are so dependent on the system your community uses. In Calgary we can put soft stretchy plastic in the blue bins preferable bundled together in a soft plastic bag so they don’t fly around inside the sorting plant. https://www.calgary.ca/UEP/WRS/Pages/Recycling-information/Residential-services/Blue-cart-recycling/What-Can-Be-Recycled.aspx

Leslie

Leslie said:

I didn’t read all the comments but I have heard that light plastic bags can be recycled at grocery stores that recycle plastic grocery bags…hope that’s the case. Dry cleaning bags and the plastic bags newspapers are delivered in…

Darlene Garvais

Darlene Garvais said:

Also, gloves are not good to recycle-especially when tainted.

For those concerned about using precious water to clean out containers, don’t forget that you can use nonrecyclable paper litter (like receipts and used paper towels) and soft film plastic to wipe out containers of most contents before giving them a rinse in a tub of discard water. We are agreed that It isn’t helpful to run these things under a stream of clean water from the faucet.

Josée

Josée said:

Thank you for this article. It does make me wonder, however — if unrinsed coffee cups and food containers cannot be recycled, why do fast-food restaurants and food courts have recycling bins?

Conrad S.

Conrad S. said:

BPA-free thermal printing paper is available. A company I manage pays more to use it—and sell it to customers—than the cheap stuff. I don’t know what Walmart and Target use, but I can imagine what Dollar Tree uses.

Lindsay Childs

Lindsay Childs said:

Take a look at an article recently in washingtonpost.com:

Climate Solutions
Revolutionary recycling? A new technology turns everyday trash into plastic treasure.
By Jim Morrison and Shoshana Kordova Photographs by Jonas Opperskalski Nov. 18, 2019

An Israeli company, UBQ Materials, apparently has a process to turn almost all trash into plastic-type material usable for things like trays and packing crates. Our local recycler in the Richmond, VA area has purchased 2000 of their recycling bins. Hopefully they are looking to see if the process makes economic sense for them.

Stan Rarick

Stan Rarick said:

Test your batteries before recycling – I have found that up to 50% of discarded batteries are still good. What I found was that typically only one battery in a set is truly exhausted. Replace that one and usually you’re almost as good as new.

Megan Smith

Megan Smith said:

In case you wondered those white & blue plastic envelopes that amazon sends a lot of stuff in can be recycled at places that take plastic film but cannot go into curb side recycling. I think this is the case in most cities too though possibly your city takes them.

Sharon McAuliffe

Sharon McAuliffe said:

I toured our local recycling facility this past year and learned a great deal about recycling, mainly, that the process is VERY localized, very geographically fragmented. Each facility has different equipment and different capabilities, and specifies what items it can/will or cannot/will not accept. Your article provides a great deal of useful information, but each person should contact their local recycling facility to get the current list. Just as one example, my municipality advised about two years ago that they would no longer accept ANY glass items for recycling. Then when I toured the facility last year, lo and behold, they were processing glass. When I called my municipality, they said that yes, they were again accepting glass, but they had decided not to tell the city residents that they could start putting glass in the bins again. Our county is forming a committee made up of waste management and recycling stakeholders, community members and representatives of local municipalities to oversee and guide county recycling efforts. I hope to be selected to participate.

Sharon McAuliffe

Sharon McAuliffe said:

One more thing…Now that I am a bit more “woke” about recycling, I have begun to notice that plastic take-out containers, which often come in two parts, sometimes have the triangle recycling symbol only on one half, usually the bottom, but not on the other half. Our local recycling facility uses laser readers to identify and sort plastic recyclables, meaning that the unmarked half of the container is not recyclable, though it is made of the same material. We have a LONG way to go toward an efficient, cost-effective recycling ecosystem.

Leave a comment