Recycling never has been easier – but sometimes it’s not as simple as we’d prefer.
What especially can be complicated is the question of which plastics to recycle.
The global crisis of plastic pollution intensifies our desire to keep plastics out of landfills, not to mention oceans, waterways and natural habitats.
Worldwide, we’re recycling about 9% of plastics. Almost all the rest is accumulating in landfills and oceans.
In fact, according to National Geographic, about 8 million tons of plastic waste goes into our oceans each year, creating serious problems for birds, fish and marine animals. That’s why many people have a natural – and admirable – instinct to make sure every piece of plastic we use goes into our recycling bin.
Unfortunately, not every piece of unwanted plastic belongs in the recycling bin.
Most material-recovery facilities, where household recyclables are sorted and processed before being sold to become new products, use complex machines designed to separate plastics, paper, aluminum and other materials.
Unfamiliar items can jam or damage the machines, costing time and money. Including the wrong items with your recyclables can contaminate the entire batch of materials, which means all of it must be discarded instead of recycled.
While only bottle-shaped plastics can be recycled in Franklin County’s residential curbside recycling program, many other plastics can be recycled elsewhere if done the correct way.
Here are three simple lessons to improve recycling.
• Never put recyclables in a plastic garbage bag: About 25% of households use bags to collect recyclables. Plastic garbage bags never should be used for recycling. Recyclables should be kept loose in the bin. If you need to contain them, use a paper bag, which, of course, can be recycled, as well.
• Plastic grocery bags are recyclable but not in your household bin: Single-use plastic bags, such as grocery, bread and dry-cleaning bags, cannot be included with your curbside recycling because they can damage the equipment at the local material-recovery facility. But plastic bags can be recycled at a number of places, which take these items to facilities capable of recycling them. Go to recycleright.org to find the location nearest you.
Of course, you can always bring a reusable bag when you go shopping.
• Shape matters: When it comes to plastic containers, shape – not the number on the bottom – determines what can and cannot be recycled. If a container’s base is larger than its neck or opening, you can recycle the container as long as it’s empty and clean. This includes things like milk and juice jugs, syrup bottles, water bottles, many laundry-detergent containers and shampoo bottles. Plastic containers with wider tops than bottoms are not accepted in the Franklin County recycling program. This includes coffee cups, yogurt containers, Solo cups and hummus containers.
The numbers on the bottom of containers indicate which type of plastic resin was used to make the container and does not indicate whether it can be recycled as part of your residential curbside-recycling program.
Recycling plastics requires a little more attention than glass, paper, cardboard, cartons and aluminum cans, but it can be done. It’s worth the extra effort in order to divert waste from the landfill and protect our environment.
For more information on how and where to recycle, go to recycleright.org.
Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about its operations can be directed to him at email@example.com. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.