Tuesday, May 4th, 2021 by Samantha Creadon / Sustainability Specialist
As beneficial and important it is for the environment, household recycling can be a pain. So many rules, so little time. Although it seems to get more confusing every day, recycling is a very important process.
The United States consists of 5% of the world population, yet we create more waste than any other country in the world. Currently we only recycle about 21.4% of all household recyclables. If we could increase those rates to 75%, that would save the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as taking 55 million cars off the road, because making milk cartons out of raw materials instead of reusing recycled materials uses resources, energy being one of the most important. Water being another. Recycling conserves 95% more water than manufacturing with new (raw) materials.
Typically, the rules of recycling are dictated by transfer stations (like Waste Management, Advanced Disposal, and Lakeshore Recycling, just to name a few) and the industries that use raw materials in manufacturing. Meaning, if a certain material is in high demand, it has a better chance of getting recycled. Typically, at home, you can count on recycling plastic bottles and contains, food and beverage cans, paper, cardboard and paperboard, and glass bottles and containers being safe in your recycling bin. Some recycling facilities will accept cartons (think orange juice) but that varies by region, so your best option is to contact your local transfer station to find out. Anything outside of these basic categories it’s probably a safe bet it’s not recyclable.
Now let’s talk about contamination. One of the most important- if not the most important part of household recycling. Mixing in items that are not recyclable with items that are is the most common form of contamination and doing so can risk ruining the entire load. Items like weak/flimsy plastics (think Solo cups and plastic cutlery), greasy cardboard boxes, and plastic bags (the mother of all contaminants) can ruin and entire truckload of good recyclables. Because of their tendency to jam up sorting machines, loads of recycling with visible plastic bags and plastic wrap are sometimes not recycled at all. An excellent place to learn about contamination is the Waste Management contamination series on Youtube or this video done by Vox.
For trickier items like clothing, furniture, electronics, and yard waste there are options to make sure it’s disposed of correctly. At The Junkluggers, we have the resources to make sure those tricky items are recycled or reused properly- keeping them from the landfill. When you move, spring clean, or remodel, think about all the waste you send to the landfill that household recycling just can’t accommodate… that’s where The Junkluggers comes in. But what about items like toothpaste tubes, cosmetics containers and shampoo bottles? The company Terracycle specializes in those “non-recyclable” recyclables- some of their programs are even free!
When it comes to recycling, as much as we like to be aspirational recyclers, the best bet when you’re unsure is to call your waste hauler to find out how to recycle or put it into the garbage. If you’re interested in doing research to find more about recycling items not included in household recycling, check out Earth911’s recycling locator. Happy recycling!
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