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Are we bad at recycling? Some of the most common recycling faux pas

| May 1, 2014

Recycling has never been more en vogue, but unfortunately, there is still a steep learning curve associated with the process — and since the regulations and technology keep evolving and changing, that learning curve isn’t flattening out any time soon. That means that many of us are not only failing to maximize the potential of our recycling efforts, but may also be unintentionally causing problems for recycling facilities. A feature in the Smithsonian magazine recently highlighted a few of the most common recycling faux pas:

Putting recyclables in a plastic bag.

Most recycling facilities can’t handle plastic bags. They’re a nuisance at best, and they can actually jam equipment and cause contamination. Many grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling, so it’s best to take advantage of those opportunities and keep your bags out of curbside recycling.

recycling faux pas

Recycling isn’t difficult, but you should take care to avoid these common mistakes. From Elliott Brown.

Not staying current with your recycling facility’s policies.

Take a few moments to review the list of what your recycling facility currently does and does not accept. The rules change all the time. For example, as the Smithsonian feature points, out, bottle caps for plastic bottles used to be a big no-no, but now most facilities accept them. You can even leave the bottle cap screwed on in most situations. (Again, policies vary by facility, so double-check.)

Recycling Styrofoam.

recycling faux pas

Remember, Styrofoam is not recyclable. From David Gilford.

Unless your facility has a special polystyrene recycling program, it’s safe to assume that recycling Styrofoam is not okay. It’s extremely hard to break down, which is why it’s not commonly accepted. That’s the bad news. Here’s the worse news: Styrofoam takes 500 years to break down in a landfill. The solution: use a recyclable or compostable alternative whenever possible. If you do end up with Styrofoam (like packing peanuts), try to reuse it.

Recycling contaminated products.

You might pat yourself on the back for remembering to recycle that salsa jar, but if it’s caked full of leftover food product, you could be creating headaches or even rendering an entire batch of theoretically recyclable products unrecyclable. “Food residue can render recycled materials less valuable,” says the Smithsonian report. Take a moment to rinse items before tossing them in the recycling bin. (Of course, if you have to use a gallon of hot water to get the product clean, you should think about how green you’re really being!)

These are just a few of the many things to consider when participating in a curbside recycling program. Should you let this list scare you away from recycling? Not at all. It’s worth a bit of extra time to make sure you’re being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. If everyone threw up their hands and decided that recycling was too complicated, we’d all be in big trouble.

Many municipalities and private recycling companies are taking strides to make the process more simple. For example, the city of Houston has proposed a new policy that would enable all waste — compost, recycling, and trash — to be disposed of in one container. It doesn’t get much simpler than that!

If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that things change quickly in the recycling world. Stay current. The earth depends on it.

Category: Recycling programs, Regulations

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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