June 27, 2013

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

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 earth911.com.

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 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: Catherine Monkman

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