The first rule of recycling: Always check with your local city.
The second rule of recycling: ALWAYS check with your local city.
Okay, this isn’t Fight Club. But recycling is a club we all need to join. And unlike Fight Club, recycling is something we all need to talk about more.
We’ve talked about the most common recycling questions before, what goes in what bin, and common contaminants that can wind up in your bin. But to make sure your recycling stays away from a landfill, let’s lay down some ground rules.
Check local requirements
The first and perhaps most important thing to mention is that every city has different recycling rules and requirements. Where one place may accept egg cartons, another might have a strict ban on them. Such is the case with a number of other items.
Instead of letting a milk jug, bottle cap, or sorting skills contaminate your entire recycling bin, we suggest taking a look at Earth 911, where you can search the recycling rules specific to your area. One extra step to stay on top of this could be keeping a list of your city’s do’s and don’ts on the fridge or near your bin for an easy reminder.
Always look to reuse
This rule provides you with a chance to flex your creative muscles. Just because something isn’t deemed “recyclable”, doesn’t mean you can’t find another use for it. Think about how you can repurpose it. Pinterest and other DIY/creative sites are great tools to help from an idea standpoint.
To provide some context, let me give you an example. Too often plastic utensils get thrown into the trash and ultimately the landfill. Instead, you can wash and reuse these utensils (perfect for picnics and on-the-go snacking), or even use them to create some crafty home decor. Seriously. Check out these cool sunburst mirrors or tealight candle holders. And have you ever wondered what to do with broken dishes? Chipped or broken plates are perfect for mosaic crafts. Who knows, even your old Crocs might make a great statement planter for your garden.
Know your exceptions for recycling
Not all plastics, papers and glass are made equal.
Plastics: Plastics are often the most tricky, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid flexible and soft plastic, such as pool inflatables or cling wrap.
Paper: While it may seem like all paper can be recycled, that’s hardly the case. Wrapping paper, paper that’s been heavily dyed, and sometimes even shredded paper, all need to stay out of your bin.
Glass: Ceramics, light bulbs and often Pyrex won’t make the cut. But just in case, see Rule #1.
Remove food and liquids from recyclables
The leftover drops of juice in a jug, or any liquid container for that matter, can send your recycling efforts right to the landfill.
While it’s important to eliminate potential contaminants, like liquids and food waste, people often wonder just how clean their recyclables need to be. To provide some clarity, it’s important to know that small amounts of food won’t interfere with glass and steel recycling processes, so just give your jars and cans a quick scrape. If in doubt, just give it a quick rinse.
The bigger concern for contaminants is actually the paper in your bin, which can be easily ruined by food or moisture.
Even commonly pitched paper items like pizza boxes are perfectly recyclable with a little extra care. Just make sure there are no food remnants in the box, and the grease is minimal. You can also tear off the stained portion of the box and recycle the rest.
Recycle e-waste the right way
Your standard curbside recycling programs are not set up to in a way to handle electronic waste, or “e-waste” as we call it. Even so, it’s important these electronic items don’t wind up in the landfill.
Electronics and circuit boards are in just about everything these days, and they need to be disposed of through the proper channels. If they’re not, toxic metals have the potential to leak into the environment, causing harm to nearby ecosystems.
Many states across America now mandate that e-waste cannot go to the landfill, so there are regulatory concerns at play as well. Added to that, improperly discarded electronics can typically be traced back to their source, which places brands at great risk if an incident occurs.
Find a partner who can ensure your electronics are recycled in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. Also be sure to check for R2 and E-Steward certified vendors, the leading standards for responsible electronics recycling.
Know what constitutes hazardous waste
Hazardous waste is perhaps most common in manufacturing facilities, yet there are many common items familiar to any business that are actually considered hazardous. That includes things like fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, and photocopier toner. This type of waste must be handled with great care and cannot be recycled with a standard program.
Find a recycling partner who can help you identify hazardous items in your waste and establish the proper methods of disposal. With the right plan in place, you can also reduce or even eliminate hazardous waste generation altogether, which helps sustainability efforts while potentially reducing costs.
Find a home for mixed-materials
Items made with mixed-materials are more difficult to recycle because they’re hard to separate.
So what exactly are mixed materials?
Think about an old desk, mattress or even a cell phone case. These items are often made up of materials that are 100% recyclable on their own, like metal, plastic, and wood, but they must be disassembled prior to recycling. This requires a specific processing facility.
You can find a nearby vendor who accepts mixed-materials or look for non-profit organizations that accept these items as donations. In addition to supporting sustainability initiatives, businesses who make a plan for mixed-materials are ahead of the regulation curve. Several states have adopted recycling laws related to mixed-material items like mattresses.