Years ago I lived in a very rural area where we had no city garbage service. This meant no trash pick up and no recyclable goods pick-up and I had to find a private service to haul garbage away. For the first week or so I committed the ultimate eco-sin and did not recycle. I ended up with 4 cans of garbage! Yikes! It became clear to me that I would have to figure out how to recycle on my own and find a place or places to take the recycling stuff.
I immediately consulted Earth 911, a great web site that helps you find places to recycle your garbage. You put in your zip code and they tell you of all the places that recycle in your area and what materials they recycle. Luckily I found a place close to me that recycled just about everything you could possibly want…plastics, tin and aluminum cans, glass, paperboard, newspaper, aluminum foil, scrap metal, car batteries…you name it. We used two of our garbage cans as recycle bins and we started collecting all the recyclables we could. It drastically reduced the amount of actual garbage we had.
I also did some research about good recycling etiquette so I could make sure I was teaching the kids correctly.
Common Recycling Mistakes
1. Ask your recycling facility if you should crush aluminum cans – Depending on the facility, crushing the cans can make things harder for them. In our case they like the cans crushed because they are always separate from the other materials and crushed cans mean less space used.
2. If your facility accepts aluminum foil make sure you clean it first.
3. Don’t run plastics or glass through the dishwasher…just give it a rinse.
4. Don’t bother peeling the paper off of cans and jars. This one surprised me since I have always peeled but the recycling process burns the paper off.
5. If your recycling facility does not accept paperboard (think cereal boxes) you can compost them. You can also put used paper towels and napkins in the compost bin too.
6. Many recycling plants only take certain types of plastics so make sure which ones they take, HDPE #2 is one type. The bottom of most plastic bottles will tell you what type of plastic it is. Also many plants will only accept bottles and not open mouth containers like yogurt cups and cottage cheese containers so ask them.
7. Loosen all bottle caps. Bottles with caps can cause pressure to build which can result in injury to recycling plant workers so make sure they aren’t super tight but many facilities will also recycle the caps.
8. Many places do not accept plastic bags like grocery bags, newspaper bags, and dry cleaning bags. Check PlasticBagRecycling.org to find places in your state that do.
It is big fun for my kids to accompany me to the recycling plant. We load up our vehicle with all of our recyclables and then go the plant where we pull into the drive through, get out, and sort all of our stuff into the appropriate bins. Then we usually hang around a bit and watch the heavy machinery at work compacting the garbage and moving around giant cubes of crushed cans. It is a great time to talk about why we are there and why it is so important.
The graphic below from Junk King has some great tips and info about what can and should be recycled for quick reference. Americans create 254 million tons of waste every year. The EPA claims that if all the recyclable materials in that waste stream were properly disposed of, about $7 billion worth of resources wouldn’t wind up in landfills! Let’s get to work.