According to the EPA, Americans generate 251 million tons of waste every year.
Unfortunately, most of that waste ends up buried in landfills. It will take centuries, if not millennia for them to degrade, potentially emitting toxic chemicals into our water and soil.
According to Keep America Beautiful, the recyclable materials in this waste would generate over $7 billion annually – but only, if they were recycled properly.
We simply need to recycle in order for these valuable materials to be reused. If you’re part of your community’s recycling program, you’re probably proud to be involved in making our planet greener.
But are you sure that you’re making the most of these reusable waste materials? The thing is, we should not only recycle, but recycle properly. That’s the best method to keep our environment clean and healthy.
Here are some common recycling mistakes and tips to help you get it right for your family, community, and the entire planet.
1. Not recycling aerosol cans
Many people think that aerosol cans are not recyclable. This old idea comes from the 1990s, when recycling first appeared in communities. People were usually told not to recycle aerosols for their own safety. And they haven’t changed their ideas ever since. Aerosol cans are recyclable – but only as long as they are empty. So don’t hesitate to put them in your recycling bin.
2. Not separating your waste correctly
Do you know whether your community uses a single stream or dual stream recycling program? It’s possible that you’ve never heard about this difference before.
Single stream recycling allows paper, plastic, glass, cardboard, and metal to be mixed together for pickup. Dual stream recycling, or source separated recycling, involves separating the fiber component paper and cardboard from containers made of glass or plastic, as well as cans.
Both methods have different pros and cons. But separating if you don’t have to do it, or not separating your waste if you’re supposed to will make things more difficult for those who take care of your recycling bin.
3. Including food-soaked paper containers
If you tend to leave your grease-soaked pizza boxes or cardboard takeout containers in the recycling bin, you’re making a huge mistake. The same goes for dirty paper napkins. Instead, you should tear off and recycle only the unsoiled elements of these containers or clean the things that can be cleaned (for instance plastic, glass, or aluminum containers).
4. Recycling shredded paper
If you’re planning to recycle pieces of shredded paper, it’s better to find out whether you can do that first. That point is especially important when handling waste generated at offices and workplaces.
For starters, shredded paper is too small to be sorted. Paper pieces might easily fall through the cracks of the sorting machines and end up all over the facility or, even worse, together with other material such as glass.
While some recycling centers accept shredded paper as long as it is contained in a paper bag, others don’t. So make sure to get in touch with your recycler to learn where to put your shredded paper.
5. Leaving lids on your plastic containers
It’s true that an increasing number of plastics are now recyclable, but plastic caps and lids are often not. In fact, they are often significant contaminants. If you leave them on, they might trap liquid, which is also a contaminant.
Make sure to separate your plastic containers from their lids before recycling them. All bottles and glasses need to be empty and rinsed. Check the number on the bottom of your container to make sure where it falls with the rules of your local recycling program.
6. Adding plastic bags to the mix
Most people don’t know it, but very few local recyclers accept plastic bags (and if they do, they require that the bags are clean, empty, and dry).
Plastic bags can have a huge impact on the recycling process. Since recycling happens on conveyor belts, plastic bags might easily get caught in the machinery. That not only poses a risk to workers who have to move through the machinery to find the plastic bag and extract it, but it also renders the entire recycling process less efficient. So make sure to keep plastic bags out of your recycling bin.
The same goes for other soft plastics – any type of plastic that can be scrunched into a ball (for instance, biscuit wrappers).
Are you making these recycling mistakes?
Follow these 6 steps and share them with your community to make sure that you are all contributing to a cleaner planet and carry out your recycling program efficiently.
About the author: Elizabeth Lee is an eco-conscious traveller and a blogger who often writes about the harmful ways in which both people and business affect our planet. Currently supporting PACK & SEND, Elizabeth might often be found online, sharing her green ideas with her readers.