Recycling used to be so simple, right? You placed your bottles with their caps on, soiled cans, greasy pizza boxes, and cardboard in your recycling bin and it was picked up curbside. In recent years, it has become much more complicated.

What happened?
From the late 1980s until January 2018, the United States and many other developed countries sold more than 40 percent of plastic, plastic, metal, wastepaper recyclables to China. However, in January 2018 China instituted new environmental controls which banned most imports of “loathsome foreign garbage” which included mixed paper and post-consumer plastics.

 

The new policy had an impact not only on the recycling industry but also local governments. For example, selling recyclable materials resulted in income for many communities. This income stream stopped and resulted in local governments paying for companies to take their recyclable materials. For example, Philadelphia made $67 per ton selling recyclables in 2012. By mid-2018, the City paid $40 per ton to get rid of their recycling.

Additionally, Americans are sloppy recyclers. Industry estimates show that 25 percent of American recyclables are contaminated with food waste as well as nonrecyclable materials. We could write a separate article on some of the materials that have been found, but they include such items as used syringes, greasy pizza boxes, plastic bags, bowling balls and even soiled diapers. Each and every one of these items wreak havoc on recycling equipment which then increases the cost of the recycling process. This cost increase associated with recycling tainted garbage makes it cheaper for companies for buy new materials rather than recycled materials.

How can you help?
We’re glad that you asked! The easiest way is to create less waste. Over the past nearly 70 years, only 9% of all plastic have been recycled. So let’s make it easy and reduce our use and dependency on single-use plastics. Here are some simple ways to get started:

  • Use a reusable bottle or mug for beverages, such as water and coffee;
  • Purchase products such as laundry detergent in powder form which is packaged in cardboard instead of plastic bottles.
  • Seek alternatives to single-use plastic bags or plastic wraps. Instead, use reusable containers and wraps.
  • For soda and seltzer drinkers, consider a switch to carbonation systems, such as Soda Stream, which uses reusable bottles as opposed to plastic bottles
  • Packing your own lunch? Use reusable forks, knives and spoons rather than single-use plastic cutlery.
  • Purchase reusable shopping bags instead of using plastic shopping bags. It’s the cheaper and more Earth-friendly alternative.

How to become a better recycler
What goes in your recycling container? Mixed paper such as paper, newspaper, magazines and soft cover books. Plastic bottles and containers, only those coded #1 and #2 (However, if you live in Hoboken- you can also recycle plastic #5’s). For those non-Hoboken residents, please remove bottle caps on plastic bottles. These caps are composed of plastic #5 and are not recyclable in all other Hudson County towns. Cans, including aluminum and steel (tin) cans are recyclable. However, please make sure that for can tops, such as from a can of corn, are removed and placed in the trash. Also, these cans should be rinsed out and free from any food particles prior to being placed out for recycling. Glass bottles and jars of all sizes, shapes and colors may also be placed in your recycling container. Similar to cans, please make sure that they are rinsed out and clear of any remaining food. Just one soiled jar or can could render an entire recycling load as contaminated which means that all of your hard work goes down the drain (or to the landfill).

So finally there’s cardboard, which gets complicated. For towns with dual-stream recycling, cardboard should be separated. For those with single-stream recycling, cardboard can go into your recycling bin. Did you know that the best pizza in New York City is actually found in Hudson County? Fun fact. But here’s another fun fact, pizza boxes are typically soiled with oil and grease from their delicious contents. This grease can wreak havoc on recycling machines and won’t be accepted. Pizza boxes should be placed in the garbage.

What items are a no-no for the recycling bin?
This is hard for us to say, but one of the mantras of the Recycle Right program is: When in doubt, throw it out! Items that should never be found in recycling bins include plastic bags such as grocery bags, produce bags and Ziploc bags. Also, plastics #3-7 are currently not recyclable and should be placed in your trash (unless you live in Hoboken which only Plastics #5s are recyclable). Shredded paper (not the documents that you bring to HCIA Shredding Days) are not accepted in your recycling bin but should go in your garbage.

Pots, pans and small appliances are not recyclable and should go in your garbage. While we’re on the subject, small appliances are NOT considered e-waste and contaminate e-waste recycling bins- save some time and money and place them in your trash. Tanglers such as electric cords and garden hoses are not recyclable. Broken dishware, glasses or mirrors (hey-forget about the 7 years bad luck, you will be fine) can all be placed in the garbage. Styrofoam products are also not recyclable and should be included with your household garbage (listen- save about 100 years that these products will take to decompose and just don’t purchase Styrofoam in the first place!). Finally, items such as batteries, lightbulbs and syringes should not be placed in the recycling container. Remember, when in doubt- throw it out!

Let’s get through this together
We live in a world of innovation. Given the worldwide recognition of the threat of global warming, more and more minds are working to come up with a solution. Until then, we need to work together and take the time and effort to keep our recycling loads clean. Remember, we have one planet, it’s our duty to take care of it!

   

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