If you live with a greenie, dramatic scenes can play out over the blue recycling bin. Styrofoam can be recycled, right? Hangers for sure. Why are you putting that pizza box in the trash? For the love of Al Gore, won’t anyone think of the cardboard? (And cue silent scream.)
As it turns out, throwing certain items into the recycling that you are utterly convinced can be recycled is actually worse for the environment. Oftentimes, bad items can taint an entire bin, resulting in the whole load going into a landfill. This largely depends on how well a city’s recycling facilities can sort. But it’s enough to throw a person into high anxiety with every trip to the waste bin.
Not to worry. Here’s a quick list of 10 surprising things on the “Do we or don’t we?” list. And always, if you’re in doubt about an item, check Earth911.com for a facility near you that may take your questionable trash bit.
Pizza Boxes I know, I KNOW. It seems like these cardboard boxes are made for the recycling bins. But pizza boxes are often tainted with food and grease. Many items are recycled using a heat and water process, which is not problem for plastic and glass. But throw some cardboard soaked in oil into the process, and you’ve got a messy muck. Terry Gellenbeck is a solid waste administrative analyst for the City of Phoenix. As he told Earth911, “The oil causes great problems for the quality of the paper, especially the binding of the fibers. It puts in contaminants, so when they do squeeze the water out, it has spots and holes.”
Wire Hangers Most recycling centers are not set up to handle wire. However, experts agree that your local dry cleaner may take them. Often, they reuse them or send them to a scrap metal dealer. Sure, they get the cash, but you get the knowledge you’re not sending wire hangers into the great abyss. Joan Crawford would be proud.
Plastic Bottle Caps Plastic bottle caps are considered less valuable on the market, so most recyclers won’t take them. Make sure you separate them from your plastic bottles. Also, you can check Earth911 to find a facility near you that does accept plastic bottle caps.
Juice Boxes Check to see if your juice box is specially-processed for recycling. If it isn’t, you have to throw it in the trash. The plastic coating on much of the cardboard renders them unsuitable for recycling.
Plastic Bags When recycling bins are sorted manually, workers cannot open plastic bags to see what is inside. It isn’t cost-effective and could be dangerous. So they get trashed. (Note: don’t put your plastic bottles and more in plastic bags.) You can often take your plastic bags back to the store for recycling – and consult Earth 911 again for places that will take them.
Styrofoam Another one that kills me, because how many times do we get handed Styrofoam containers we don’t want? But Styrofoam is a petroleum product and, more importantly, highly flammable. It’s considered a danger to most recycling centers. Again, Earth 911 may provide locations that will take it from you.
Wet Paper Paper fibers that have been soaked are shorter. This makes them less valuable to paper recyclers, who won’t collect and mill them.
Paper Napkins or Towels Again, food contamination often takes these paper products out of the running. Try to use wash clothes or handkerchiefs instead.
Ceramics You would think that your old coffee mug would find a home in your recycling bin. Alas, they are not accepted at most recycling centers. Consider giving them a second life with a houseplant or in your garden.
Heavily-Dyed Paper When paper is recycled, it is heat-treated. So if something is heavily dyed, it has the same outcome as a blue sock or red t-shirt thrown in with your whites in the washing machine. Consequently, a lot of paper mills won’t take the results. (Pastels are okay.) Life can still be colorful, just a bit toned down!