It’s good to have aspirations — especially when it comes to doing what’s right for the environment. However, aspirations can lead some of us to put something not-so-helpful into the recycling bin.
We’ve likely all posed this question to ourselves or others: “Is this recyclable?”
Then maybe we put it in the bin, hoping it is recyclable.
Worldwide, people produce about 2.6 trillion pounds of trash per year, according to the World Bank Group. That’s the mass of 7,000 Empire State Buildings.
So why not send an item into the recycling center? It’s probably recyclable. Maybe?
If not, they’ll just sort it out and toss it, right?
Well, kind of. If there are enough items in a batch of recyclables that aren’t recyclable, the whole batch gets tossed. Recycling sorters and machines can be contaminated or damaged by items that aren’t recyclable.
Putting non-recyclable items into your recycling is called aspirational recycling. The intentions are good, but the results are not.
Common items found in curbside bins include plastic bags, plastic wrap and other materials that tangle sorting machinery. This bags require special machinery to process. Plastic bags can be dropped off for recycling at most grocery stores that distribute bags.
Other “tanglers” include hoses, cords, wires, and strings of lights. Electric cords, wires and light strings can be processed if they’re brought in to the Olmsted County Recycling Center for processing.
At the Olmsted County Recycling Center, plastics labeled as recyclable with numbers 1, 2 and 5 can be processed. Plastics without those numbers don’t have an end market and aren’t recyclable, said Sharon Schriever, regional programs manager at Olmsted County Environmental Resources.
Batteries thrown in recycling can pose multiple hazards from the chemicals they contain and can start fires if placed with recyclable material or sent through processing machinery. Batteries and used light bulbs can be taken to hazardous waste processing facilities such as the Olmsted County Hazardous Waste Facility.
“Contaminants are a real problem, and putting the wrong things in the bin costs extra money for sorting and shipping and can spoil otherwise good recyclable products,” Schriever said. “Materials should also always be clean, dry and empty.”
Containers that hold food should be cleaned before being put in recycling. Diapers aren’t recyclable. Yes, they get put in those bins. However, I don’t think the word “aspirational” quite describes the thinking behind putting dirty diapers into recycling.
Recycling can be confusing. Most papers are recyclable. Shredded paper? Not so much — it can muddle machinery sensors and contaminate other materials.
Schriever suggests next time you aren’t so sure about whether an item can be recycled, ask the Waste Wizard at www.olmstedwaste.com. People can type in an item into the Waste Wizard search option to find the proper place to get rid of it.