recyclingsmallbins.jpg Since it’s inception in the late 1800s, recycling has boomed in America – over 9,000 communities have curbside recycling programs. While services vary from city to city, most municipalities offer some way for its citizens to recycle their waste. More rural communities may have to transport their recyclables to an off-site processing center, but the good news is that more Americans than ever are working on being eco-friendly and contributing to the recycling system. Unfortunately, despite people’s good intentions, there is room for error when it comes to recycling. This is mainly due to the confusing nature of many recycling policies and ignorance of town members. For example, one city’s recycling program may allow you to mix different materials in the recycling bin, while others want you to sort. In addition, there are other common mistakes that people tend to make when recycling. The good news: Knowledge is power, and it can spread like wildfire. Some of the most common mistakes are listed below, so see if you’re accidently making them – it’s not too late to stop!
  • Thinking an item is NOT recyclable – According to Good Housekeeping, assuming something is not recyclable is the number one mistake people tend to make. Many things that may not have been accepted by the recycling centers before – such as wine corks, aluminum foil and compact discs – are now welcome with open arms. While not everything is eligible for curbside pick-up, there are still ways to get the items recycled. Look for community clean-up days or drop-sites where unusual yet recyclable materials are collected.
  • Using plastic shopping bags – Most recycling centers cannot take plastic shopping bags as they often jam sorting machines. Worse yet, these bags are not biodegradable, dooming them to a lifetime of floating around the landfill or, worse yet, our parks, forests, rivers and more. Many grocery stores do have drop-off bins where you can bring unwanted plastic bags, and they are always needed at local dog parks. But if you can, invest in re-usable shopping bags. There are lots of fun colors to choose from and many stores now offer a credit for bringing your own bag.
  • Attempting to recycle dirty materials – Greasy pizza boxes and residue-covered peanut butter jars equal a recycling center nightmare. Imagine the oils and other sludge associated with empty cans and containers all over the equipment that is supposed to be sorting them – talk about a mess! Many containers can be washed out and then recycled – think glass jars, metal cans and plastic milk jugs. But that nasty Chinese take-out container from two weeks ago? Toss it in the trash.
  • Forgetting to reuse – Don’t forget, there are THREE Rs – reduce, reuse, then recycle. Technically, the things that end up in the blue bin set for the sorting center should only be items that cannot qualify for reuse. Glass jars can turn into beautiful vases while those empty cottage cheese containers make great Tupperware. Save up these containers and let your kids make their own drum line! Don’t forget about schools and day care centers – they often use recyclable household materials for arts and crafts, so consider putting useful objects aside for the teachers in your community. They will greatly appreciate it! This website has tons of great ideas for re-using household stuff that may otherwise end up in the bin.
  • Throwing away plastic bottle caps – According to Do Something, Americans throw out 25 million plastic bottles AN HOUR. While many of these do end up in the recycling bin, their little caps do not. While it is true that these pieces were not recyclable in the past, most facilities will now accept them. It is requested the bottle be clean, squished down to compress the size, cap replaced and put in the bin. Isn’t that convenient? But be sure to check with your recycling provider before you start keeping these babies together.
  • Believing all glass is the same – Think that you can toss that old chipped china plate into the recycling, right next to the clear Mason jar? Guess again. Just like plastics, there are certain glass-materials that are non-recyclable. Most ceramic dishes, light bulbs and porcelain cannot be processed due to their chemical compositions – they also have different melting points than traditional clear and translucent glass. Click here to find out which glass will make the cut.
  • You work too hard – Did you know that you actually do not need to remove paper labels from jars and cans? Yes, you want them to have clean insides but leave those labels alone. And if there is a tiny bit of crud left in the bottom corner of that container? It’s not a big deal – recycling centers do clean the items that come in, so just try your best. It is also unnecessary to crush cans and remove pop can tabs. Instead, try saving those for your child’s school – there are many programs that offer school funding in exchange for pop tabs.

Spread the word

Now that you know the most common recycling mistakes, let others know if they are in the dark. It’s not rude or obtrusive to make recycling suggestions to friends and neighbors – bring it up casually. The next time you’re on a walk with the dog and you notice John from down the block putting his recycling bin, offer a friendly hello and a, “You know, I just found out those pizza boxes aren’t recyclable! Can you believe it?” This keeps the focus off of the fact that he made an error, and instead becomes a teachable moment. Speaking of teachable moments, do not forget to spread this knowledge to the next generation. Most schools have recycling bins, but kids may not fully understand how they are to be used. Model good recycling behavior in front of your children and they will follow suit. Who knows, they may even teach their friends a thing or too. With this teamwork mentality in mind, perhaps these common mistakes will no longer occur in the future.