Dear Recyclebank: Can composite containers like the ones used for frozen orange juice, or other cardboard containers with metal or plastic tops and bottoms, be recycled in single-stream recycling without taking them apart? –Denise S.
Dear Denise: Composite containers can be tricky and take a little bit more work to recycle, whether it’s for a single-, dual-, or multi-stream system of recycling. Since composite packaging is usually made with more than one material, you need to identify the different components before deciding how to recycle it.
Many municipalities can recycle beverage cartons made of paper cardboard lined with wax, but any packaging consisting of cardboard lined with a plastic or aluminum film, such as gum wrappers, individual oatmeal packets, or frozen juice from concentrate containers, cannot be recycled and must go in your trash.
Other composite packaging that consists of unlined paper or cardboard and metal or plastic pieces should be separated and placed in the proper recycling bin (or, if contaminated, the trash).
In a dual-stream or multi-separation recycling system, your glass, plastics, metals, and paper need to be separated in some fashion, keeping the different materials organized for processing at your local recycling plant — therefore requiring you to separate the composite packaging into its different components before recycling whatever individual pieces are accepted.
And in a single-stream recycling system, it’s perhaps even more important to take apart your composite containers before tossing them in the recycling bin, due to the mechanized sorting process involved in this type of recycling. In single-stream recycling, all your mixed paper and commingled containers are collected in one bin, and then taken to a MRF. These facilities use automated technology, like optical scanners and magnets, to sort and bale tons of recyclables every day. If you pull apart your composite container into its separate pieces, such as the paper from its metal tops, then the machines can properly sort out the paper and then use powerful magnets to collect the metal pieces.
Regardless of which type of recycling system your area uses, it’s always good to check your muni or hauler’s list of acceptable materials and recycling guidelines. And if composite containers are too difficult to break down, consider trying similar products in easier-to-recycle packaging.