Recycling items properly is a terrific way to help take care of the planet. As the years have gone by, the list of dos and don'ts for recycling has skyrocketed, but we've been pretty good at updating our knowledge as new information comes. However, as with anything that's constantly changing, the things we've been putting into the blue bin may not actually belong there.
These frequently recycled items actually need to be disposed of in other ways. We're here to lay out the common items that ought to be thrown in the garbage or cleansed thoroughly before being put into the bin.
"What do you mean plastic bags can't be recycled?" Hold your horses. They obviously can be, but they need a different kind of collection. This means you can't drop them off in the curbside bin for a regular ol' pickup. What you'll need to do instead is check to see where you can drop them off (such as grocery stores). You can check online to see which department stores will take your bags. Keep in mind that this also applies to plastic wrap from water bottle cases, newspaper bags, and bread bags.
This is one of those items we've probably been recycling for eons without giving it a second thought. Well, there's no time like the present to learn about why these should be kept out of the blue bin. It isn't biodegradable, which makes it a no-no for recycling. You should look into getting more environment-friendly materials for your lunch, but if you need a place to dump off existing styrofoam then you can check online to see which facilities will pick it up. This goes for packing peanuts and the packaging for meat.
Wait, another plastic item that can't be recycled? Not exactly. Bubble wrap can certainly be recycled, it just can't be in the blue bin. Just like with plastic bags, bubble wrap needs to be recycled at different locations such as grocery stores. You can always consult with various websites to see where drop-off zones are located in your area. Just be sure that you're removing any residue from the wrap before dropping it off, like tape or stickers.
For a long time we've considered pizza boxes to be blue bin-friendly. It is cardboard after all, so what's the problem? The obvious issue is the leftover grease and food remnants on the box. These two things cause an issue at recycling plants during the pulping process. What this means is that the grease cannot be pulled from the recyclable fibers and the entire batch will be spoiled. It's best to chuck these items in the trash.
There may have been a time when you were told to put all your recyclables into a plastic bag and dump them into the bin. That's no longer the case and what happens now is that bags full of recyclable items get tossed into landfills. Remember that if you're leaving a garbage bag full of cans or bottles, there's no way for the professionals to determine the contents of the bag and your plastic is usually discarded in a landfill. Aim to either leave things loose or keep items in a recyclable or compostable bag.
Even if your hangers are made of plastic, they still shouldn't be dropped off in the blue bin. They can cause issues in facilities due to their size and often cause more problems than anything else - especially wire hangers. The good news is that you can safely drop off unwanted hangers at your local dry cleaner or a thrift store. You can call ahead to double check, but these locations are usually more than happy to take hangers off your hands.
Many of us have probably learned by now that batteries and other electronics need to be disposed of in a particular way, but some might still be placing their batteries in the recycling. Batteries in the recycling causes an issue because the metal might leak and ruin other recyclables. What you should do instead is check which facilities will accept them and dispose of them accordingly.
Some of us might still be sticking our paper towels into the blue bin, especially when they haven't been used that much. But you really shouldn't be doing this because paper towels absorb a lot of residue and can contaminate other recyclables in the plant. They need to be disposed of in the trash.
Hopefully, fewer and fewer people still place used diapers in the recycling, but there was a time when it was happening quite often. Not only are they soiled by a number of things, but they cannot be recycled properly in plants. The best thing for you to do is to put diapers in the trash where they belong.
Not everyone knows that not all plastics can be recycled. Yogurt cups fall into that category and for the most part, these little guys wind up in your local landfill more than anything else. The proper way to dispose of them is to first find out if your area accepts #5 plastic. If they don't, head over to Whole Foods and they will dispose of them for you.
Items like chip bags or snack bar wrappers don't usually belong in the recycling. The reason being that these bags and wrappers are often laminated with aluminum, which makes them a bizarre combination of the two and causes issues when recycled. You can visit the TerraCycle website to find out how to properly rid these items and learn about the different kind of wrappers they'll take from you.
I know that paper is a good, recyclable material, but shredded paper has some small print attached to it. When you recycle a full sheet of paper, it can be recycled several times over again due to the number of fibers in the material. However, when you recycle shredded paper it might not be as feasible to reuse because the fibers have all been torn. You should bag it in a recyclable or compostable bag and keep it sequestered from other recyclables in your bin. There are also facilities in your area that will dispose of the paper for a reasonable price.
Paper coffee cups are sort of like pizza boxes. Yes, they've been thrown into the bin for years now, but they're contaminated with residue. Coffee drops usually cake the paper and make it a sticky material that can't really be reused by facilities. Not to mention, many of these cups are lined with plastic polyethylene. You can, however, recycle the lids (so long as they're not black) and paper sleeves. The cups need to be disposed of in the garbage, though.
If you've ever been on the receiving end of a newspaper caught in the rain, you may have thrown it into the recycling thinking nothing of it. However, wet paper really can't be tossed in your blue bin because the paper's fibers have been worn down by the moisture and will be very difficult to reuse. It's because of this that many recycling programs won't accept it. If you have damp paper on your hands then you can use it for compost or you'll need to throw it in the trash.
Light bulbs are another one of those items that need to be disposed of correctly, even if you've been putting them in the recycling without a second thought. Just like batteries, light bulbs should be tossed in with the trash. Be careful of the glass, though, because depending on the rest of your garbage the bulbs could easily break.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can usually be dropped off at various locations around your area. They may contain mercury, which means they'll need to be given to the right facilities. They don't need to be placed in the trash like other bulbs, such as halogen.
These are just some of the items you shouldn't be recycling or should be more mindful of how you recycle. Keeping up to date with your area's recycling program is a great way to stay educated and ensure that you're not chucking away the wrong items. There are also various websites you can visit that will further explain what goes in your bins and what doesn't.
Working together to keep the planet clean and well-taken care of guarantees that we're all doing our part to take care of our home.