Recycling is one easy method used to prevent waste from ending up in landfills. The 1990’s introduction of “single-sort” or “single-stream” recycling has made it even easier for consumers to recycle. Instead of sorting recyclables by type, we can place recyclables in one container for curbside collection. But what happens when we place items in the recycling bin that can’t be recycled? The term for this is “wishcycling” – putting items in the recycling bin that actually can’t be recycled. I applaud you for your good intentions, but when in doubt, throw it out! Contamination of recycling streams can result in entire batches of recyclables (glass, paper, plastic) to be rejected and end up in the landfill. Here are some of common items you may be recycling that actually end up doing more harm than good.
- Shredded Paper – While paper is a recyclable material, the shredded stuff is just too small to make it through the recycling sorters. It falls through the conveyor belts makes a mess. Since it is too small to get into the paper stream, it often ends up contaminating the glass stream.
You can use the shredded paper to cushion holiday ornaments or other fragile items. Non glossy paper would also be ok to add to your compost pile as ‘brown’ matter. (Read our post about composting). If you find yourself shredding a lot of documents, it might be a good time to consider what it is you’re shredding, and if it is something that can be eliminated by moving to paperless statements or invoices. Perhaps just ripping something in half and recycling it is good enough.
- Black Plastics – Black plastics are problematic because the optical sorters at MRFs struggle to properly sort them. Black plastic is often used for microwavable food trays, and they can contain an additive to prevent them from melting. This additive makes it difficult to recycle. Since they are black, they cannot be dyed into a new color.
- Plastic Bags – Some plastic bags and wraps are recyclable, but not in your curbside bin. Plastic bags can get tangled in the machinery at MRFs, and can sometimes take up to two hours to manually untangle, halting the sorting process.
Some stores offer a plastic bag collection near the entrance of the store. Drop off your clean, dry bags the next time you go grocery shopping. To see where plastic drop off locations exist, you can search here: https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/recycling-bags-and-wraps/find-drop-off-location/
- Receipts – It may come as a surprise that something like receipts cannot be recycled. Thermal receipts (which most all receipts are) contain BPA, which is used as a color developer for the printer dye. Think about it – do you ever see employees in stores refilling their receipt printer ink? They don’t have to, because the ink itself is in the receipt paper already, in the form of BPA. Heat from the “printer” burns the paper and exposes the BPA. These receipts shouldn’t be recycled as BPA can end up in wastewater from recycling plants or minimally contaminate new products. Thermal paper tends to have a sheen to it, and will discolor if scratched with a paperclip. Regular paper receipts will have the ink printed onto them, while thermal receipts work as the printing develops from the heat.
As an alternative, you can opt to receive an e-receipt or use a tracking app for your purchases. Also, be sure to use caution with excessive handling of thermal receipts, as BPA can be absorbed into the body directly through the skin. In animal studies, BPA is a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant.
- Egg Cartons – Paper egg cartons can’t be recycled because the paper fibers in the carton are too short from having been recycled too often. They are no longer suitable for making new paper products.
Plastic egg cartons can go in the recycle bin, but foam ones should be tossed in the trash. If you compost, you can toss the paper ones in your compost heap. Reusing egg cartons is an even better idea! You can use the paper ones as a seed starting tray – they are easy to cut apart, and some can just be planted directly into the ground in the spring. Local PROP Food and Marshall’s Farm Market accept clean egg cartons for reuse. You can drop off any clean egg carton at PROP Food located at 14700 Martin Drive, Eden Prairie during their donation acceptance hours. Marshall’s will reuse clean dozen sized egg cartons during regular business hours when the stand is open, from July – November. Marshall’s Farm Market is located at 9100 Eden Prairie Road, Eden Prairie.
Check your packages for recycling labels like the ones How2Recycle has created. The company strives to create clear, easy-to-understand labels for companies, while at the same time improving the relability and transparency of recycling claims. This takes the second guessing out of what can be recycled and what cannot. Don’t see your favorite items displaying this label? Reach out to them and let them know you’d like them to be a part of How2Recycle.
Curious about your recycling hauler and what rules they have for recycling? Check out their websites to see if they have any restrictions or tips on how they do things at their facility.
Eden Prairie haulers:
Randy’s Environmental Services
Suburban Waste Services
Purchase items with recycled content and feel good knowing your product is better for the environment. Not only does it reduce the amount of virgin materials being depleted, but it takes less energy to make something out of recycled resources than it does from extracting new resources. Shopping win!
A recycling symbol doesn’t always mean you can recycle it. The number listed corresponds to a resin identification code. It informs the recycler (not you, the consumer) what the product is made of, like polyethelene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, or polystyrene. Sometimes you’ll find these numbers inside a triangle that looks a lot like the recycling symbol. Check with your hauler to understand which numbers it accepts; #1, 2, and 5 are the most commonly recycled.
You play a huge part in impacting the recycling chain, even at your own home or business! Recycling puts valuable materials back into the market to be made into new products again. It reduces the need for raw materials, which reduces the strain on the environment. And with less energy required to manufacture recycled products, fewer pollutants are emitted into the air.
The next time you think about tossing something in the trash, think again if it can be recycled. Check out your recycling hauler’s website to learn what can and cannot be recycled. With time, you will be more comfortable knowing the ins and outs of recycling. There are many small but meaningful changes you can make today! Challenge yourself to start recycling plastic bags if you haven’t already. Maybe you’ll pay more attention to what you’re putting in the recycling bin, and not mistakenly wishcycling. Perhaps you’re a more veteran recycler, and you’ll challenge yourself by decreasing the amount of recycling you roll out to the curb. After all, no waste is the ultimate goal. However you plan on changing your behaviors to be a better recycler, the environment thanks you!