Keeping your recycling contamination-free on Labor Day weekend may not be your first priority, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind. Contamination causes all kinds of problems at recycling facilities, and often results in materials having to be landfilled, so if you want to be friendly to the laborers at your local MRF — and make your own recycling efforts count — be careful to follow a few recycling best practices.
Here are some super simple, universal recycling guidelines to keep in mind:
1. Plan ahead to reduce your waste. Use reusable cups and dishware, and buy beverages in bulk, instead of buying individually packaged cans or bottles.
2. Empty, rinse out, and then dry any recyclables that are dirty, soiled, or still contain food or liquids. (Don’t leave the BBQ-sauce bottle lined with sauce!)
3. Only place dry and non-greasy items in the recycling bin. (No pizza boxes, unless you cut away and trash all the greasy parts.)
4. Stick with the list of accepted recyclables provided by your city or hauler, and contact them with any specific questions not covered on their list of materials. (Plan ahead to recycle right!)
5. Don’t place loose plastic bags in your bin just because your hauler accepts #2 or #4 plastics for recycling. Instead, take those plastic bags to a drop-off location such as a collection bin at the front of a grocery store.
Since recycling guidelines vary from one community to the next, what is accepted in one city may actually be considered contamination in the next. It’s true — something as simple as a non-recyclable material can cause some serious damage. So beyond just, “paper, plastic, glass, and metal,” you might want to ask for some details about what’s accepted. To avoid some common contamination issues, here are a few suggestions of questions to ask your hauler:
1. “For plastics, what numbers and shapes do you accept?” You don’t want to put a #5 plastic yogurt container in a recycling container if only #1 and #2 plastics are accepted in your area. But not all haulers go just by number — sometimes the size and shape of a plastic container is more indicative of its recyclability than the number.
2. “Do you accept bottle caps?” Because of their small size — and the differing types of plastic they can contain — haulers tend to have special rules for whether or not you can put them in the bin. Some say “NO” while some will ask you to keep the cap on the bottle.
3. “How clean do my recyclables need to be?” Some haulers are okay with just a rinse, while some need recyclables to be a bit more spic-and-span.
4. “Do you accept mixed-material containers for recycling?” Certain food packaging — such as an aseptic soup container or a vacuum-sealed coffee pouch — is made of too many materials to be recycled efficiently in some areas.
Preventing contamination is simple if you contact your hauler to get a list of what’s recyclable, and then stick to the guidelines. If you have a list, and you’re still not sure if something’s recyclable, it’s actually better to toss a mystery material in the trashcan rather than in the recycling container! Keep these pointers in mind, and right away you’ll help make processing all that Labor Day recycling easier!
How do you plan on keeping your recycling container contamination-free this Labor Day? Share your ideas in the comments below!