Keep in mind that just because something can be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it can be recycled economically.  If it can’t be recycled economically (or profitably), it probably shouldn’t go into your curbside container.  There are other ways to recycle things – or to re-use them, in some fashion. (Again, we’ll discuss this in future articles.)  But with curbside recycling, following a few simple guidelines will go a long way toward reducing the amount of “residue” that gets dumped into the landfill – along with the costs this incurs (both monetary and environmental).

One of the main things to avoid is excess food residue and liquids.  You don’t have to put things through the dishwasher, but sometimes rinsing them off with a little water can make all the difference.  Food and liquids can contaminate a large quantity of material that would otherwise be recyclable – not just the stuff in your own recycling container, but potentially, other material in the same load (from other people’s homes).

Important:  Don’t ever put plastic bags (e.g. grocery bags – or plastic “film” of any kind) into your blue barrel or bin – including, for example, shrink-wrap or the plastic lining that dry cleaners use, to cover your clothing.  This material can get stuck in the gears of the sorting equipment, which slows down production.  Most grocery stores will accept your plastic bags for recycling.  (One notable exception to this rule:  If you use a shredder in your home office, you can place the shredded paper into a clear plastic bag, so workers can see what’s inside; the shredded paper will be recycled, along with other paper products.)

In the past, Styrofoam products have been accepted for recycling, but they are no longer processed by the recovery facility. (Again, more on this, in a subsequent issue.)  For now, add “Styrofoam” to the list of things not to put into your recycling container.

Meanwhile, if we, as consumers, work a little smarter (not necessarily harder), we can make ourselves a stronger link in the recycling chain.  Take a look at the sidebar, “What’s in your barrel?”  In addition to basic guidelines, we’ve listed resources, for further information.  There’s a wise old saying: “If people knew better, they would do better.”  In the case of curbside recycling, knowing and doing better would help reduce the amount of waste that is dumped into the landfill.  It would also cut operating costs for trash and recycling collection services and for materials recovery facilities.  Ultimately, all of this would make household recycling not only more efficient, but less expensive for consumers.  It would reduce the cost of many household products and it would be a further step toward the goals of conservation and reducing waste; admittedly, a small step, but a step in the right direction.


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