In simplistic terms, recycling works in the following way: items are placed in a bin for recycling, those items are collected and sent to a recycling plant to be sorted, and lastly those sorted materials are sent off to a processor to be repurposed. Many things can go wrong in each step to throw off the recycling process. Typically, the mistakes happen in the first step, with us.
We tend to throw away things that can’t be recycled or are “contaminated”. If there is an influx of materials that are not recyclable, recycling plants tend to send those shipments to the landfill even if there are recyclables in the mix. Additionally, if recyclables are contained within a plastic bag, the sorters will not open the bag to go through it. They will simply discard it. The best thing one can do is keep their recyclables loose in a bin.
Another problem is the contamination of recyclables. This includes items that can’t be recycled, items that contain food residue, or broken glass. Once a recyclable has been contaminated, its overall quality is diminished. Why is the monetary value of recyclables important? The reason is because the recycling plant is not what is transforming the “trash” into products. This is the processor. If the processor sees little to no monetary value in the trash, then they won't buy it. China was the largest buyer of recyclables from the United States. Recently, China has put a ban on the export of recyclables into the country from the US, UK, and Australia. One of the main reasons for this decision is because too many of the recyclables had been contaminated and therefore decreased the return on investment for China. China requires a low contamination rate of 0.5 percent, however US recyclables reach upwards of a 25 percent contamination rate! After China stopped accepting our recyclables, the US could not keep up with the influx of recyclables and were unable to sell them. Faced with a product that isn’t selling, the recyclables are being trashed as many cities and municipalities are simply no longer recycling!
So how can we prevent recyclables from ending up in the landfill???
Here are 7 recycling tips:
- Avoid plastics whenever possible. Most plastics are recyclable, but they are turned into a lower grade product like plastic wrap which is NOT recyclable! Aluminum, however, will turn into another aluminum product of the same value.
- Glass is a special case. Glass is recyclable but that is not always the case for broken glass. To prevent the breaking of glass upon its arrival, put softer recyclables like paper around the glass instead of having breakable items on top of each other.
- The business card rule. Recyclables smaller than a business card cannot be recycled. That includes your plastic straw and bottle caps! Many times, if a plastic bottle still has the cap attached, the whole package is sent to the landfill.
- Flatten cardboard boxes, cans and plastic containers
- Keep recyclables loose. Many times, if recyclables are contained within plastic bags they are marked for the landfill. However, this is not always the case. Contact your local recycling center to be sure.
- Wash your recyclables. Before throwing your recyclables into the bin make sure all liquids, solids, and residue has been removed to prevent rejection.
- Check what your community or office program accepts before you put it in the bin. This will reduce the number of “contaminated” recyclables you contribute.
-Written by WCSWCD Intern, Josie Mitchell
For more information about recycling around Warren County, visit: www.co.warren.oh.us/SolidWaste/
For a list of approved recyclables from Rumpke, visit:
- Don't bag your recycling. Place all items loose in the bin
- Do recycle your cardboard. Break it down and if possible place in your bin or cart
- Recycle plastic bottles and jugs only. Other types of plastics may not be marketable at this time
- Recycle all paper
- Recycle cartons, please remove straws
- Recycle all glass bottles and jars. Remove lids
- Do not place batteries in your bin
- When in doubt, check your cart lid for the acceptable items list or go online.