Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Top Tips To Improve Your Recycling

I consider myself an environmentalist and a dedicated recycler. I’ve even been dubbed “The Lorax” in one office for pulling recyclables out of my cubicle neighbor’s trash and into the recycle bin. However, I never really understood how it works, or what happens after it is collected. How does it turn into my 65% post-consumer recycled paper towels and soda cans?

Mathieu Young and I got a chance to tour a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF, pronounced “merf”). Once I saw how my recyclables are sorted, it made more sense how it works and where I was going wrong in my own self-righteous recycling.

You think you’re a good recycler? Here are some tips we learned from the experts. Keep in mind, this is for facilities that use “Single Stream Recycling” (throw everything into one bin: paper, glass, plastic, metal), such as the Pico Rivera Waste Management facility we saw. Double check this is the same for your area.

1. What to keep out of the recycle bin is more important that what you put in
I was afraid to put certain things in the recycle bin because I thought it wasn’t recyclable. Back in my day, you couldn’t just throw anything in there. Certain plastics or papers could not be recycled. Now, any paper, plastic, metal or glass is recyclable. If you’re not sure, toss it in. They will throw anything away this is not of value. We even saw toy trucks being recycled. There are certain things that can contaminate the good stuff though, so make sure to keep out:

a. Food waste or food contaminated papers such as paper plates, pizza boxes, cups, napkins, towels or tissues
b. Hazardous materials (batteries, motor oil, paint, tires, CLF light bulbs)
c. Syringes, needles or medical waste (no joke)
d. Green waste (grass trimmings, dirt)

2. Things that are not recyclable
Although it may not slow down the recycling process like the above, don’t waste your time trying to recycle these items:
a. Clothes
b. Styrofoam: cups, food trays and packing materials
c. Mirrors, light bulbs (incandescent), drinking glasses, window glass and ceramics
d. Plastic covered in wax coating

3. No need to package your recycling
Everything that enters the facility must be sorted and opening tied bags slows down the sorting line. Although your recyclables are valuable raw materials, there is no need to wrap them up like birthday presents.

4. Reduce your waste
Recycling is great, but not creating waste in the first place is even better. Are there ways you can create less waste?
a. Can you reuse that bag, box, bottle or container for something else?
b. Can you install a water filter and stop using so many water bottles?
c. Do you need to put every vegetable in the supermarket in a separate bag?
d. Did you remember to bring that snazzy canvas bag you bought but never use?

5. Lead by example
Behavior is contagious. People will follow your lead if you use less and recycle more. Data shows that education and outreach improves recycling rates: remind your neighbor of these recycling tips!

Big thanks to Waste Management for setting up the tour!
- Russell Vare


oneheavenlyheart said...

Thanks for saying this! I always need encouragement to keep up the good fight!

Canvas bags unite!

Cathy said...

Promote these tips! FB, e-mail, conversations, all of the above! ☺