Recycling’s Dirty Dozen

Here are the Top 12 Mistakes people make when it comes to curbside single-stream recycling (list courtesy of Boulder, Colorado’s Ecocycle Times).

  1. Plastic Bags: Plastic bags are far and away the WORST contaminant in the recycling bin. They are not recyclable through the curbside program. Plastic bag markets require that these materials be clean, dry and empty. Once they go in a commingled bin, they definitely do not meet the first two criteria. Mountains of wet, soiled plastic bags are pulled out by hand each week and sent to the landfill. Please keep bags out of your curbside bin and recycle them at participating grocery stores like Ukrops and Walmart. Better yet, purchase some reusable grocery bags. Here’s a great video from a recycling facility in Boulder, Colorado to illustrate the fact.  (If you’re having trouble viewing the video, here’s the link:
  1. Materials Bagged in Plastic Bags: The only thing worse than plastic bags are materials tied inside them. Workers need to slow the conveyor belts, rip the bags open toget recyclables out and then add the bag to the plastic pile bound for the landfill. These inefficiencies are very costly to the program.
  2. Non-Recyclable Plastics: CVWMA accepts narrow-necked plastic bottles labeled with a number 1 or number 2 ONLY. This includes many soda and water bottles, milk and juice jugs, and household cleaner bottles. Plastics with other numbers or 1 and 2 plastics that are not bottles (like margarine tubs and other food containers) are not recyclable in this program. They are from the same family of plastics, but the two forms have been slightly modified to achieve different properties for strength, fluidity, crack resistance, etc. Even when the plastic number is the same, the manufacturing processes to create those qualities make the two containers incompatible. Including these incompatible materials in recycle bin contaminates the rest of the batch causing it to be disposed in the landfill.
  3. Plastic Lids and Caps: Plastic caps are NOT recyclable and are a significant contaminant, both on and off the bottle. Tossed in separate from the bottle, they are not pulled out by the processing screens and contaminate both the glass and the plastic materials.
  4. Caps and Lids Left on the Containers: Left on the bottle, caps and lids of all kinds are frequently keeping liquid inside the container (see hit list item #6). Please remove and recycle separately metal caps and lids. Please THROW AWAY plastic lids!
  5. Liquids: Liquids trapped in containers with the lids on creates a mess at the recycling center when these materials are baled. It’s difficult to compress the sealed containers and the liquid explodes all over the floor, creating a stickystew with a stench. Please help avoid this mess and pour your liquids out before tossing the container in the bin, and please do a quick rinse of all containers to remove soda pop and other sticky leftovers.
  6. Ceramics and Non-Recyclable Glass: Glass that isn’t a bottle or jar should not go inthe bin! Ceramic, china plates or cups, dishes, mirrors, laboratory glassware, light bulbs, Pyrex, porcelain and window glass have a different melting point and chemical composition from container glass and ruin new glass containers. If our market sees just one contaminant like these on the top of a load of glass, the entire load willlikely be rejected.
  7. Diapers and Other Bio-Hazardous Waste: Diapers and other sanitary items are not recyclable, and, of course, neither are the biohazards that come with them.
  8. Shredded Paper: Shredded paper is too small to sort — the pieces literally fall throughthe cracks of the sorting machines and end up all over the floor of the facility, or worse, in with the glass. Recyclers are encouraged to avoid shredding except when absolutely necessary, and to compost shredded materials when and if you have access to curbside composting.
  9. Hazardous Waste: Take your hazardous materials to an appropriate CVWMA facility.
  10. Scrap Metal: Scrap metal items of all sizes cannot go in the curbside bin because they can damage sorting equipment.
  11. Frozen Food Boxes: Paperboard boxes that were designed for freezer foods have a coat of a plastic polymer sprayed on them to protect against freezer burn. That same coating prevents the box from breaking up in the recycling process. These materials are not recyclable or compostable.

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