Friday, March 22, 2013

Top 5 Items That Cannot Be Recycled [Recycling Pt 2]

By John Simmons

In my previous post we looked at the top five things that should be recycled. While recycling is great and should be done as much as possible, we shouldn't get carried away and try to recycle items that cannot or should not be recycled. Here are the top five items that should not be recycled.

#5: Any Recyclable Item with Residue on It

Residue, including food residue, dirt, and other substances, can contaminate the recycling process. For example, greasy pizza boxes should not be recycled. When paper products are being broken down, they are places in a large vat and mixed together with water and other substances to break the paper down. Called “slurry,” this pulp can easily be contaminated by grease, which will affect the ultimate quality of the paper produced and may even require the slurry to be discarded.  
Best solution? Clean recyclables before recycling them or, in the case of food-contaminated paper products, burn or compost them.

#4: Plastic Caps and Lids

Although plastic caps and lids are technically recyclable, they cause issues at most recycling plants. Lids are small and flat and can end up in other recyclables such as newspaper, contaminating those other materials. Bottle caps and other small plastics can get caught in the gears of the conveyer belts that are used to sort out our commingled recycling, interfering with production.Another issue arises when bottle caps are left on the bottle they came with. Most plastic bottles are made from PET #1 plastic, but caps and lids are commonly made from the sturdier #5 plastic. These two different types melt at different temperatures during the recycling process, and if they are together the resulting plastic is of lower quality and cannot be properly reused. 
Leaving the cap on bottles also traditionally causes problems in the sorting facility: when bottles are crushed caps can shoot off at high velocity and potentially hurt an employee, and bottles that escape crushing retain air and take up more space, meaning fewer bottles can be transported at a time. Some modern recycling centers can handle bottles with caps on them, but the majority still do not. 
Best solution? Check for a list of drop sites that accept bottle caps; one might be near you.  Also, some schools and charities collect bottle caps as fundraisers, so caps can be donated to them.

#3: Plastic Grocery Bags. 

The type of plastic these bags are made from is too thin and weak to be recycled. In addition, the bags can easily become caught in machinery during the recycling process, requiring work to stop and the machinery to be unclogged. A good solution is to return plastic bags to store that collect them. Even better, avoid plastic bags to begin with and opt for paper bags or reusable bags. ( Several local stores provide recycling for plastic grocery bags, and they have the infrastructure in place to transport this item to a recycling facility in bulk so it doesn’t get mixed up with other items.

#2: Ceramics, Window Glass, Broken Glass, and Glass Kitchenware Items

Much like with plastic bottle caps, window glass melt at a different temperature than glass bottles, resulting in weakened or inferior final products. Another issue is the lack of uniformity with these types of glass. While glass bottles are fairly uniform in size and shape, window glass varies widely in shape, size, and thickness and may have frames attached that must be removed. Ceramics and glass kitchenware items contaminate glass and are difficult to sort, as is broken glass. These types of glass often have additives that would contaminate the rest of the batch. 
Best solution? Reuse glass products when possible, or find centers in your area that have the equipment to handle these other forms of glass.

#1: Toxic or Hazardous Products, and Their Containers

Toxic products include household chemicals, antifreeze and other liquid coolants. The containers for these items are also off the list of recyclables, as they would quickly contaminate other recyclable items. Motor oil is recyclable, but it must be handled separately from household items and should be treated with great care, because if it gets into city drains it can greatly harm aquatic life.In addition to these toxic products, do not recycle hazardous products such as aerosol cans and medical supplies, which can be dangerous to employees. These are items that should be thrown away
Best solution? Find out how your community handles hazardous materials before you need those services, and follow those standards. .

For further reading on what should be be recycled and some reasons why, go to these websites:

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