By Larraine Roulston:
Recycling is a global industry in which markets and prices are just as volatile as any other business that depends on the cost of extracting natural resources or obtaining quality supplies from residents. By recycling the familiar curbside collection items — metal food containers, paper, plastic and glass — you save water, energy and new materials from being extracted for the manufacture of new products. You also lessen the burden on landfills. In doing so, however, you have to do it right and avoid contamination.
Your first priority in proper recycling is to understand just which recyclables your municipality accepts and how they do so. If you move to a different location, you most likely will have to rethink where to place these items, as systems vary across regions. One curbside collector might want newspaper and cardboard together; another may request they be kept separate. In most cases, glass, plastic and aluminum cans are collected together, then transferred to a conveyor belt for separation; however, other recycling facilities require that they be separated at the source. As well, not every area is able to handle all the recycling number codes printed on plastic.
Recycling contractors realize that constant and clearly illustrated public education is key to maintaining a good clean recycling program. Jessica Nolan, head of the Conservation Psychology Lab at Pennsylvania’s University of Scranton states, “We don’t like to have to think about things more than we have to. The more convenient you make a recycling program, the more likely people are to participate.”
Paper: Keep paper flat rather than crumpled in a ball. Remove any paper clips and metal or plastic spiral binding from notebooks, as well as hard covers from books. Do not include carbon or wax paper. Remove excess food from pizza boxes and paper plates. If too greasy, it would be best to compost them. Open up cardboard and box board for easier recycling and saving space. On a windy day, it’s always a judgment call, but try to stack recycling boxes if paper or loose recyclables are apt to blow away.
Glass: Deposit food and drinking bottles only. Empty each jar and rinse. Remove plastic or metal lids. Do not include broken drinking glasses, light bulbs, mirrors or glass dishes.
Plastic Bottles and Jars: Empty contents, rinse and flatten if possible. Include only the plastic type that is labeled with a number accepted by your municipality. Remove lids if so required. Do not include hard plastic such as toys.
Metal: Both aluminum and tin cans should be emptied and rinsed. Push lids of tin cans inward to avoid any accidents to yourself or to recycling workers. Flatten to conserve space. Remove paper labels for your paper box. Some people remove the little aluminum tabs on pop/soda and beer cans to donate to charities.
Taking that little extra step to keep materials clean or to recycle only what is accepted might prevent a conveyor belt from grinding to a halt if, for example, an item such as a coat hanger gets caught in the machinery that sorts and routes recyclables. Employees at some facilities also sort by hand, and it helps them when you are considerate about what you toss into your recycling bins.
When traveling, the recycling advocate can be challenged when trying to locate the right container. If none are available, take your recyclables home.
Buy Recycled. It is also worth noting that purchasing products made with post-consumer recycled content is important.
Larraine authors children’s adventure books on composting at www.castlecompost.com.