How to Actually Recycle Properly
Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash
Who has time to recycle? If you do, then bravo! And if not, it doesn't hurt to be informed for if you have time to do it. Disposing of the trash properly to be recycle-friendly still matters for your municipal waste management.
What is recycling anyway?
Recycling is the process of transforming something that would otherwise be thrown away into a new product. It takes work, and energy, as there is still a manufacturing process. The difference is, instead of using raw materials, you're using used ones that won't end up in either landfills or wildlife systems.
Recycling is one of the crucial R's in sustainability. And while strides still have to be made to improve recycling efforts (especially with plastic!), there has been progressing over the last few years.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2018, recycling and composting have saved over 193 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This amounts to approximately 42 million cars being off the road in one year.
And to illustrate the energy saved, recycling just ten plastic bottles can save power that's equivalent to powering a laptop for more than 25 hours.
Recycling is beneficial because, apart from recovering energy by creating new materials, it also prevents waste from entering landfills and releasing greenhouse gases while dumped there.
How to Recycle Properly
Recycling can be time-consuming, but if you are ready to take up the challenge, you need to know important recycling facts and the proper ways how to recycle different types of materials.
One of the biggest barriers to recycling is not having enough info about where to go with your recyclables and how to prepare these materials.
We've all been caught up with this phenomenon of "wish-cycling", where we pile some recyclables at home or buy "eco-friendly" goods just to get that satisfaction that these materials will end up being recycled. Wishing, unfortunately, won't have the same results as doing.
When it comes to recycling regulations, every city or town will have a specific set of rules or capabilities. Therefore, it pays to know where you can locate a nearby drop-off center, or what options you have in your zip code. Check out resources like this recycling database in North America from Earth 911 to keep you informed and push you to follow your recycling plans.
Here are a few tips on how to recycle waste properly:
Keep paper dry, and unshredded
Paper is one of the easiest materials to collect for your recycling bin. And it's important to keep recycling paper as it makes up the largest percentage of waste, material-wise.
So how should we collect magazines, mail and paper documents, and cardboard? Keep them away from moisture, and try not to shred them.
Unless your documents contain private info and therefore need to be shredded, shredding paper meant for recycling bins isn't as much of a necessity. In fact, some recycling centers may not accept shredded pieces of paper that are too small.
Clean your recyclables
For those who are recycling, it's not enough to bring materials to a curbside drop-off or a local recycling plant. You have to make sure that these materials are clean and ready for processing.
The easiest recyclable materials include glass containers, batteries, metals from canned goods containers, soda cans, and aluminum foil. Before depositing at the community recycling center, these should be clean of any dirt, food particles, and debris before tossing. For glass, make sure your jam jars, food containers, and drinking bottles are all rinsed and dried.
Keeping all your recyclables clean from grease, food, animal waste, and other debris can ensure that it will not contaminate the recycling batch in the facility.
No to plastic bags
Who knew that the poster image for pollution is the very material that is unrecyclable at the moment? Yes, unfortunately, plastic bags is a no-go for recycling centers.
These are the biggest culprit in recyling loads, and they harm in two ways. First, they contaminate via microplastics leeching off the other recyclable materials. Second, plastic bags are notorious for getting stuck in the recycling machine and causing mechanical problems.
Any plastic bag thin enough to be poked through (e.g., plastic sandwich bags, chips bags, bubble wrap, saran wrap, grocery bags) are meant for drop-off areas and not your typical curbside recycling bin.
So even though these bags are technically recyclable, you have to ensure with your drop-off if they are accepted so as not to cause problems. And this also means that you should not bag your recyclable paper and glass materials. Place them right in the bins without any encasement.
There are no-no's in a curbside recycling bin
While paper, glass, aluminum cans, and the like are popular recyclables, there’s the question of what can’t be recycled. And sadly, there are still a lot of trash that cannot go into our community bins. Included in non-recyclable materials are:
- plastic bags (as mentioned)
- food-soiled paper
- aerosol cans
- garden hose (coated with plastic)
- propane tanks
Always check and verify with your local provider what can and cannot be recycled. If these end up in the recycling system, they could contaminate an entire batch!
Combined materials aren't recyclable
The thing about recycling is, it requires just one type of material rehashed together to make a new product. In short, it will work if you only have similar materials in one system. This is why a coffee cup made of paper but coated with plastic lining won't be recyclable, even if it's mostly paper.
The best workaround here is to just avoid using these non-recyclable materials as much as possible. That way, there won't be lingering trash that will inevitably be landfilled because it cannot be reused or recycled.
How to Recycle Waste: The Takeaway
Recycling is a big step to curbing landfilled trash and reducing emissions. It takes a lot of time, organization, and dedication, but it’s more crucial than ever for us who are trying to be as #zerowaste as possible in our homes.
We want to emphasize that avoiding or Refusing to consume stuff is still the primary way to eliminate trash, but if it’s impossible to do so, recycling efforts count, too in the grand scheme of things. So spread the word, and make recycling a family and community habit!