Sunday, April 22, 2012

A How-to For Recycling


Recycling is an important part of any green home or business, but the sheer number of products and materials that pass through our hands every day can make it seem like a daunting task. Programs differ from state to state, from city to city, and sometime even from block to block, so how can you know where to start in your neck of the woods? To help you out, we’ve put together all the things you need to know to start recycling: from paper plates to aluminum cans to soda bottles, this is your guide to recycling right.

What can I recycle?
Recycling centers will be set up to handle different kinds of waste, so the most important thing you can do to make sure you’re handling your household or business trash efficiently is to learn what’s recyclable in your area. It’ll be easiest to start with the most commonly recycled materials: most curbside pickup programs and drop-off centers will accept the big five – paper, glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel – although there is a lot of variation within these categories.

Paper: Almost all recycling programs accept basic paper products like newspapers, junk mail, cardboard, magazines, and computer paper. A couple of things to keep in mind about paper recycling: whole paper is easier to recycle, so avoid shredding or tearing paper when you can. Also be careful with juice boxes and milk cartons, which are not accepted in most local programs, and try to avoid putting in products like pizza boxes or sandwich wrappers that are contaminated with food: the oil can ruin a whole batch of recycled paper (you can compost this waste instead).

Glass: Glass is one of the most easily recycled materials, but not all glass is made the same. Curbside and drop-off programs will most likely accept clear, brown, and green container glass, but you shouldn’t put in glass from windows, glassware, or cooking dishes – these products usually include additives that will disrupt the recycling process later on.

Plastic: Because there are so many different types of plastic it can be one of the most difficult materials to recycle. Check with your local program to see what types of plastics they accept and learn to spot the resin identification number on plastic products (the #1-7 surrounded by three arrows). Almost all facilities will accept plastics marked #1 – 3 while larger programs will sometimes accept all seven. If you buy compostable plastics like PLA make sure they stay out of the recycling stream.

Aluminum: Like glass, aluminum can easily be recycled again and again. Almost all programs will accept cans, but you should check with your local centers to see if they take other items like foil.

Steel: Steel cans – used for everything from coffee to pet food – are accepted at most local programs.

Where should I take my recycling?
Again, this will depend on where you live. Check in your area to see if home pickup if offered. If so, all you’ll have to do is make sure you have an approved bin to set out on the curb (and if not, you should lobby your city to start one – cities with curbside programs have higher recycling rates than those without). If your city uses drop-off locations you’ll need to collect your recyclables at home, then bring them to a community facility.

How do I to sort my recycling?
Whether or not you sort your recycling will depend on the type of program in your area. Many curbside pickup programs are what is known as single-stream recycling, which means you can put all your materials in one bin and they’ll be sorted back at a processing facility. As you can imagine, this method generally leads to high recycling rates since it’s easier for consumers, but mixing everything together can create its own set of problems. In particular, paper can be made unrecyclable by food contaminants, which is why some programs will use a duel-stream collection system which includes a separate bin for paper. Many drop-off centers, though, will require you to sort your recyclables, usually into easy categories like paper, plastic, clear and brown glass, aluminum, and cardboard. If you’re sorting your own recycling it’s very important to make sure you follow the directions at your local drop-off site: mixing materials or putting in non-recyclable items can damage equipment or destroy an entire batch of recycling.

Should I rinse my recyclables?
Giving your glass, metal, and plastics a quick rinse before they go in the bin will help make the recycling process efficient and easier down the line and will also help keep your bin from getting sticky and stinky. If you mix all your recyclables together, you should rinse food containers carefully to prevent waste from getting on paper products.

What about the rest of my garbage?
Once you start recycling you’ll no doubt notice all kinds of other waste you’ll be reluctant to toss in the garbage. You can take your recycling to the next level by looking in your area for ways to dispose of hard-to-recycle stuff like batteries, appliances, plastic bags, and packing foams. And always keep in mind that every item you keep out of the trash is helping to reduce pollution, conserve resources, and save energy.

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