Being an organized recycler

Sometimes when you unclutter, you come across things that are of no use to you and won’t be of use to anyone else, either. These could be old worksheets from school, plastic folders for those papers that are disintegrating with age, paperback books that are so damaged that no one is ever going to read them, textbooks that are decades out of date, etc.

You may want to recycle as much of this stuff as you can. Those of us who have curbside recycling service have it pretty easy when it comes to recycling, and others have access to convenient recycling centers.

But often when people go to recycle, they aren’t fully aware of what items qualify for recycling in their area. As Susan Carpenter noted in the Los Angeles Times back in 2011, “What’s accepted in L.A.’s blue bins can be vastly different from what’s recyclable in New York or San Diego or even Long Beach.”

Can you put hardcover books in the recycling bin? You can’t in my city, but you can in nearby Palo Alto. And where my mother used to live, there was a nearby recycling yard that took hardcover books. Is shredded paper okay? It’s fine in some places (which may want it placed in a labeled paper bag) but not allowed in others.

So you’ll want to take the time to get familiar with the rules in your locale. These might come in newsletters from the recycling company, or you may find them on the company’s website. Sometimes there isn’t enough detail on the website, and you may want to call the company for clarification. And pay attention to notices about changes in the recycling program, since new technologies (and revised demand for certain materials) can change the list of items accepted for recycling.

Why does this matter so much? Because if you combine recyclable and non-recyclable items, you may wind up recycling none of it. As Aaron C. Davis at The Washington Post wrote about shipping boxes, “Don’t be lazy and leave the Styrofoam, plastic and peanut packaging in with the cardboard — there’s a good chance it will mean the whole box gets directed back to the landfill.”

Also, as Davis further reports, when a lot of non-recyclable materials wind up in the recycling bins, the recycling business becomes less profitable and makes recycling services considerably more expensive to the cities buying those services. In Washington D.C., “so much non-recyclable material was being stuffed into the bins that after an audit by Waste Management last fall, the share of the city’s profit for selling recyclables plummeted by more than 50 percent.”

One final caution: If your locale doesn’t accept plastic bags for recycling, please respect this. The bags can play havoc with the recycler’s sorting machinery. If you use a plastic bag to take things to the recycling bin, empty the bag when you get there rather than putting the filled bag into the bin. Plastic grocery bags can sometimes be recycled at the store where they were acquired.

8 Comments for “Being an organized recycler”

  1. posted by Pat Reble on

    Plastic bags can often be recycled by donating them to your thrift store, which can use them for customer purchases.

  2. posted by Ann on

    Most people I talk to about recycling think that it’s all right to intersperse non-recyclable items (e.g. styrofoam with empty shipping boxes) because they think that there are people standing at the intake and sorting everything. Nothing that I say – there are no human ‘sorters’ – changes their minds on this point.

  3. posted by Marie on

    My husband and I battle about this constantly. Our trash contract specifies that cardboard may not have any traces of food or grease on it, and yet he persists in throwing pizza boxes and take-out containers in the recycling bin. I’m tired of fishing them out, and he just stubbornly repeats “Cardboard is recyclable!”

  4. posted by Paula Johnson on

    Just wanted to comment on Ann’s comment. In some municipalities in Southern California, recycling IS sorted by a combination of mechanical means and human workers at a “Dirty MRF” (materials recovery facility).

    That said, no, you don’t want toss is crazy stuff.

  5. posted by Greta on

    I second the frustration of Marie, but with a coworker. She actually collects recycling and takes it home with her she is so concerned that we lack the service. However, she pulls everything including all the food-stained containers from the lunchroom. She rummages through the trash WHILE PEOPLE ARE EATING THERE for items that I suspect aren’t accepted. I live in a different city than I work, but I know my city only wants clean paper and cardboard.

  6. posted by dex on

    @Marie
    He sounds so stubborn, probably time for a divorce.

  7. posted by Anne on

    My Boston-area grocery store has recycle bins for plastic bags. I collect bags from all sources, stuff them into a bigger bag, and keep it under my kitchen sink until full. I have never heard any complaint from the store about “co-mingled” bags, thankfully, and am grateful to have a place to recycle them. (Guess I should check that thicker bags are ok!)

  8. posted by Kimberly on

    I’m a professional organizer in the Boston area. When working with clients, one service that I offer is consultation about whether to keep, toss, recycle or consign their items. I continue to do research about where to recycle specific items. I discovered that Best Buy recycles plastic bags as does many of the grocery stores. So many things get tossed into the trash and needlessly end up in the landfill. I found an organization that recycles old obsolete keys and sells them for scrap metal. The money raised is donated to local food pantries to fight hunger.

    When you take the time to do your homework, you can find a place to recycle just about anything while promoting sustainability and helping the environment.

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