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April 19, 2022 4 minute READ

Thinking Outside the Bin - Part 1

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Recycling is a comprehensive process. Many of us are familiar with the basic “3 R’s” that describe it: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.

In recent years, several “R’s” have been added to this mantra giving it variations of five, seven, and sometimes eight steps. Alternate versions include “R’s” like Repurpose, Repair, Recover, Re-gift, Refill, Refuse to buy new, Remember the need, and Repeat. While these are certainly critical options to consider, so many “Revisions” to simple methods might make recycling seem daunting.

Don’t let the procedures overwhelm you before you throw away something that could be used again or given new life in another form. Recycling is one of the most direct and important actions we all can take in our daily routines to create tremendous environmental change like saving energy, preventing pollution, slowing the growth of landfills, and cutting down on the need for harvesting raw materials.

To uncomplicate the infinite scroll of “R’s,” here are a few clear-cut tips to remind you of how easy and essential recycling really is:

  • Empty. Clean. Dry. These three words take second priority behind only the original 3 R’s. If an item can’t be cleaned, rinsed and dried thoroughly, or separated so that the recyclable part detaches from the soiled part, then don’t recycle it. It may be of use in some other way. If nothing else, it’s better to throw out one dirty item than to contaminate everything in your recycling bin – or worse, the entire truckload of recyclables. Pizza boxes, for example, can be recycled as long as there’s no grease or dried, stuck-on cheese. If there is, cut or tear off the parts that are stained and dispose of them in the trash while recycling the clean parts of the box. Also, make sure there are no liquids left in recyclable cans, bottles, cartons, or jugs. Even that sticky residue must completely disappear from an old jar of peanut butter before it hits the recycling bin. Finally, perform an occasional “sniff test” on your recycling bin. Unlike your trash can, your recycling bin should have no discernable odor. This ensures it’s clean, and there’s no buildup to contaminate its contents.
  • Know what items are acceptable. Recyclable items vary somewhat from place to place. Your recycling bin likely has a list of recycling “Yes’s” and “No’s’” on it so pay attention before throwing in items. Yard waste, foam, single-use paper goods and plastic bags, clothing, batteries, and electronics are almost always “No’s.” (More on some resources for recycling those items later.) If you have questions, contact your town, county, or local recycling agency. It’s best to be sure what can and can’t be recycled so that you can avoid being a “wish-cycler,” or someone who tries to recycle an item with good intentions but has no actual knowledge of the item’s recyclability.
  • Don’t recycle anything smaller than a credit card. Yes, it may be a recyclable material, but small items can jam recycling machines. Small things like bottle caps and pop tabs are ideal for repurposed art projects.
  • Don’t bag recyclables. Gone are the days of separating multiple tubs of glass, aluminum, paper, and plastics by type (Remember trying to find those tiny numbers on plastic containers and bottles? Yikes!) for home recycling… for most of us, at least. Unless your local recycling company specifies otherwise, place only loose items in your recycling bin. The only common exception to this is shredded paper, which needs to be bagged separately.

While this advice is a good reminder of how painless recycling should be, it's also important that we keep getting better at its practice, especially when it comes to finding new approaches toward the other “R’s” of recycling.

Follow this LINK for Thinking Outside the Bin - Part 2.

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