GREAT QUESTION. There is no easy answer. It is almost impossible to provide each and every reader exact terms and conditions here, because every U.S. state and city is unique. There is just no federally backed platform (yet). But, we can thank the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for stimulating the states.
YOUR MISSION: type in your zip code here, find out whomanages your recyclables, whatis accepted, whereyour drop-off zones are for bulky and hazardous items, whencurbside pickups are available, and whyit matters.
Once you have gathered personal basics, here are some collective basics to digest:
The ORGANICS of RECYCLING are PLASTIC, PAPER, CARDBOARD, GLASS, METAL
Question your contribution. It may be tempting to recycle everything at first. You are seeing the bigger picture. But assuming non-recyclable items probably can be recycled actually does more harm than good. This way of thinking, coined “wishcycling” muddies, slows, and tires the entire process; potentially harming human workers, nearby lands and overall economic value. When you assume that greasy cardboard box is fine, down the line, the plant must halt the machinery, pull it out, then hopefully commission it to be landfill (otherwise, dun dun dun… its final resting place is a nearby park or body of water). When you assume batteries (and other e-waste) mix with organics, you unconsciously introduce toxic chemicals to the system! Check out Earth911 for specifics on where to recycle your bulky appliances, batteries, old cellphones, etc.And be sure to read the information on your collection bins. Here is an example:
Oh, and this is important… ALWAYS separate a bottle cap from a bottle. Why? Because each is a different type of plastic (um why was this not obvious before?) Leave the pieces together and the streamlined process must kick it out. Nullifying your contribution.
Drive around Los Angeles on a curbside collection day, the number of non-recyclable items bursting out of blue bins is shocking – mini blinds, glass pane windows, plastic lawn chairs, plastic table covers, garden hoses, ENTIRE CARDBOARD BOXES (just…flatten them…). Los Angeles currently operates the largest residential curbside recycling program in the United States, but what happens if we remain uneducated? The city pays into transportation, technology, workers, plants, but lose a good chunk of their collection due to contamination or malpractice…. They receive little or no return from the recycler, which harms the business altogether.
And we are the lucky ones – Angelenos can recycle almost everything with their blue bin, from #1-#7 plastics, single-use cups, plates and cutlery, to magazines, scrap paper, and junk mail (complete list at LASAN).
Think before you toss it people. Educate those around you. And E.C. shame neighbors with overflowing bins by asking if you can help them find a drop off instead. My father once said, if you leave a job undone, well, someone down the line has to do it. So why not be the initiator? The smallest deeds often lead to the biggest rewards.
Don’t let your bin look like this:
DO NOT BAG, I repeat, NO BAG!
*Face palm* to the many, many years of not knowing this. The vast majority of recycling plants around the U.S. reject all.the.items if they are in a plastic bag. Let that sink in. Read it again.
NO FOOD-SOILED PRODUCTS
Not all plastic will be perfect, because we need to save water too. But keep in mind the next person handling your items. Imagine its your best friend, your brother or cousin. Consider them saints you want to impress. They may feel differently about you after seeing gobs of tomato sauce still plastered on that aluminum can. Use your best judgement. Cut out the grease portion of the cardboard box. Add a little soap before rinsing the guacamole container. High quality, low contaminant recycle streams are your goal, but so is conserving water.
Did you know? It is better to NOT rinse detergent/soap/shampoo bottles? The recyclers rely on soap to clean plastics during their process. Stay one step ahead of the curve.
NO NAPKINS, PAPER TOWELS, SNACK or FAST FOOD WRAPPERS
That one is obvious right?
BUY RECYCLED AND RECYCABLE ITEMS ONLY
You close the loop when you purchase items made from recycled content. Look for the packaging symbol that signifies it contains recycled material. If we use something just once and throw it away, we waste our natural resources. When consumers demand more environmentally-sound products, manufacturers continue to meet that demand by producing high-quality recycled products. Everyone wins!
Cigarette butts, ashtray waste, medical waste, construction items, water filters, classroom items, beauty products, and (personal favorite)contact lenses and their packaging (this is a game changer, people). Click here to start playing a next level recycling game now!
Still unsure what those illusive packaging symbols are saying to you? I break it down here.