Recycling: Don’t Waste Your Time. ~ Angela Topp

Via on Jun 26, 2013
Photo via caribb on Flickr.
Photo via caribb on Flickr.

When it comes to recycling, you have to play by the rules if you want to make an impact on our planet.

Many people do not realize that a substantial portion of what they are recycling is going into a landfill. This is not because recycling companies are corrupt, it’s because people don’t follow the rules.

I hear on a daily basis,

“I was not sure if it could be recycled, so I just threw it in!”

I cringe on the inside every time these words are spoken because those items are doomed for an eternity in America’s wasteland. You have to think of the recycling companies as a middleman, or a broker of trash.

They have to take these items and sell them to companies who will in turn create new goodies out of said trash. The recycling companies are not the ones recycling the trash; they are just the sorters and sellers.

There are two main reasons why your recyclables might end up in the trash. Be a “rock-star recycler” by following this advice:


Wasting water is a common worry for recyclers and rightfully so. Use the same water to clean all of your recyclables to save water. You can actually save the city and your recyclers money by cleaning your goods. And remember: they don’t need to be clean enough to eat out of, but they should be free of globs and such. Recycling companies can be paid more for items that are clean!

If your items have not been rinsed out or still have food remnants, they will likely be thrown away. In fact, contamination in the recycling business is a big problem. Some estimates put the costs of irresponsible contamination in the neighborhood of $700 million per year industry-wide.

Clean items are particularly important for paper and cardboard. Pizza boxes are one of the major culprits. If the cheese and grease is still on the box, it can mess up the entire recycling process. Oil and water do not mix, and recycling paper and cardboard is often a water-based operation. The oil on the items can jam systems or ruin entire batches of recycled paper, costing companies a lot of money.

Wrong Items.

The most common mistakes made involve plastic. Plastic is sorted based on number and many plastic containers are comprised of several numbers. A juice container, for example, may have a body that is a number one, a cap that is a number five (or is unnumbered) and a label that is a different number. In some areas, not all plastics numbered one through seven are accepted.

If you are not sure about an item, hold onto it and call the company to find out. Never assume or just cross your fingers and hope it will be recycled—take the time to research. All of the time you spent cleaning is wasted if you include items outside of what’s allowed. Those items are going in the trash and it’s a lose/lose for everyone.

As a general rule, unnumbered plastics cannot be recycled curbside, so anything without a number needs to be put aside. However, these items can be recycled! You just have to look outside of your curbside recycling program.

After reading this article, revisit your curbside rules. Review what your recycling company accepts and more importantly, what they don’t accept. The days of sneaking items into your bin are over!

Once you have mastered curbside recycling, it is time to start recycling outside of the bin.

Many other local businesses will accept the drop-off or mail-in of random items for a small fee or even free of charge. A good resource for locating out of the box recycling centers is the website

Whatever you do, do not get overwhelmed. Simply commit today that you are going to get informed, follow the rules and be a recycling superstar!


Angela ToppAngela Topp is the owner of an earth friendly retail store in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a true hippie at heart and a sucker for a stray dog. During the day she helps people recycle more, waster less and commit to doing more for the environment and for themselves.


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  • Assistant ed: Cat Beekmans

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10 Responses to “Recycling: Don’t Waste Your Time. ~ Angela Topp”

  1. Andy Couturier says:

    this is not realistic.

    If you are not sure about an item, hold onto it and call the company to find out. Never assume or just cross your fingers and hope it will be recycled—take the time to research. All of the time you spent cleaning is wasted if you include items outside of what’s allowed.

    Hold on to my trash and call a company? This is ridiculous. The tiny number of people who will actually do this makes the advice numerically irrelevant.

  2. Cat B says:

    I think the goal of the author was to educate & share knowledge so that "the tiny number of people" grows to a large number of people who can then use that knowledge to make an impact on the industry with better choices. It's definitely made me take a look at what I throw into the bin.

  3. jeddy says:

    Ludicrous. Eliminate the for-profit recycling company. Set up dump stations manned by dumpster diver teams. Bring the garbage to them instead of making them find the garbage. They'll sort it any way that pays; just pay them for their productivity at the end of the day. Garbage into the landfill will decline by 90%. Divers will lift themselves out of poverty. No need for separate cans and no more "rules" for the public.

  4. Rose Colored Glasses says:

    This was a very helpful article as I had often anguished if my washing of my recyclables was counter-productive "earth wise".
    I use to drive 20 miles to recycle at a location in another county that had bins set up for each type of plastic, glass, etc. It became very labor intensive so I stayed on my side of Atlanta and went to closer locations where you combined everything listed on the bin into one bin. I was surprised that styrofoam was not mentioned here-in. I have seen styrofoam with triangular number codes, but extremely few places that accept it.
    And I agree with Jeddy….just provide employment for sorters and then let people drop off at will.
    However, the Decatur recycling place at the market, has numerous employees that refuse to assist in helping you and are unable to answer questions. They are all paid….and with benefits….

  5. Linda V. Lewis says:

    Am sure this article is helpful in the States.
    In Nova Scotia, Canada we have evolved so that ALL plastic is accepted (in blue bags). Each household separates paper (in grocery bags), plastic and glass (in blue), compost (in the green bin), and whatever might be left as trash (in a black bag). Cardboard is bundled separately, as are branches cut down to a reasonable pick up size. Box board (like cereal boxes) goes into the compost.
    This really cuts down on "trash".
    Each household gets a big compost bin and a small one for inside the house. In the summer compost is picked up weekly.
    All of this is paid for by taxes; no private companies are involved.
    It sounds complicated, but children can do it when parents provide the bags, etc.

  6. Ralph Monkman says:

    Sounds like here in Manitoba we could get some recyclng pointers from Nova Scotia. We could use more info about what is recyleable and how it should be prepared. A related question; How do I speed up composting? is there an additive that will reduce the time for the compodt bin to do its job?

  7. Jared says:

    Interesting points! People throw a lot stuff in the recycle bin that won't really get recycled at all. Make sure to read the guidelines on the top of the lid.

  8. Giringidon says:

    I actually relished reading this content. You are a bright writer. I like your way of production. hold it up. Hey, If you want to know any information about the waste specialist so you can check out our –> recycled waste

  9. david3729 says:

    You made good point on that Angela. Its very important to know what item can be recycled and cannot be recycled.
    Yet, there are people that are stubborn and doesn't even care what items can recycled and not.

  10. Well, there is truth in here.

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