recycling.jpg In recent decades, as it’s grown progressively across the globe, the virtues of recycling have become clear. With a slight change in lifestyle and a few conscientious efforts, it really isn’t difficult to ensure glass, plastic and paper products are reincarnated. While the upsides of recycling are obvious and apparent, we all should remember some important rules to ensure we are making the most of recycling. Below are four tips to help ensure you are recycling in the most responsible, ecologically friendly manner:

1. Just because it can be recycled, it doesn’t mean your municipal recycler has the ability to accept a particular item.

In a perfect world, every plastic, glass, paper or rubber item could go through a sorter and begin the glorious process of recycling, awaiting a new, reinvigorated and repurposed life. Unfortunately, this is not a reality. Maybe someday. But not at the moment. This Washington Post article brilliantly shares how well-intentioned recyclers actually can cause more harm than good. While a Halloween costume is made of plastic, the specific materials, more likely than not, are unable to make it through the machine – a fact best illustrated by the eerie, ghoulish plastic hand sitting atop a machine, discarded from an assembly line of recyclables. Even if an item does meet the specific criteria, it might be a detriment to the machinery giving traditional cans, bottles and newspapers a new lease on life. Anything that is long or stringy could shut down an entire line and jam up recycling machinery. One of the most commonly unrecyclable items to make it into the recycling bin are pizza boxes. I stand guilty with this one! As an avid consumer of a stuffed-crust pizza (bonus points for green peppers and black olives!), I frequently have placed pizza boxes in my recycling bin. Upon researching this piece, however, I learned my municipality does not have the ability to repurpose them at this point. While there are a small number of recycling centers that can accept pizza boxes, they’re definitely in the minority.

2. If you can donate it, go donate it!

Remember that saying about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure? It applies to this bullet point. Americans are notoriously wasteful, and the amount of stuff that has at least some sliver of value yet winds up at the curb for the trash hauler is astounding! Donating unwanted items to thrift shops is a great way of unnecessarily keeping them out of landfills and giving machinery at recycling centers a bit of a rest. One other donation possibility: Give unwanted items to nonprofit organizations, such as homeless shelters and other inner-city organizations aimed at helping meet the needs of underserved persons. By extending this sort of gesture, you’re not only being kind to the environment, you’re being kind to mankind!

3. Do not – I repeat, do not! – put unwanted electronics in the trash

That old 1980s VCR might be far beyond its useful life, and it might be tempting to cavalierly toss it in the garbage on the day trash is picked up. While the amount of electronic waste (e-waste, for short) winding up in landfills has been on the decline in the U.S. and other developing countries, it is still happening, and this should be a cause for alarm. Depending upon the specific item, and when it was manufactured, your discarded item could contain one of the following items: 
  • Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) – research found it could negatively impact hormonal functions that are critical for development, particularly in infants and children 
  • Cadmium – known to poison the kidneys because of its ease in entering the human body 
  • Lead – older electronics have an especially high concentration of this chemical element, which has been proven to cause brain damage in children 
  • Mercury – found to be very toxic, even in low doses, and can cause brain and kidney damage; also known to contaminate wide swaths of groundwater 
Companies specializing in electronic recycling are sprouting up in urban and rural areas across the globe. If one is near you, make the trek and discard your unwanted electronics item at the center. In addition to ensuring any harmful items are properly disposed of, electronic recyclers will remove items of value. Upward of 1,000 different items – including various forms of heavy and precious metals, plastics and circuit boards – are used to make electronics. Many of these products are assembled with minerals and other items that have resale value.

4. The do’s and don’ts of bags

In addition to those aforementioned pizza boxes, plastic bags also reportedly wind up in many recycling centers only then to be discarded. It’s an innocent mistake, I suppose. The word plastic is in the name, after all. But the type of material in these bags is not recyclable at most centers. Plastic bags have a way of inevitably gumming up machinery at recycling centers, and operators have to shut down the equipment frequently throughout any given day to remove the items. One helpful alternative: Take plastic bags back to the store. A growing number of retailers are placing bins near entrances for consumers who want to repurpose these bags. An even better alternative: Whenever possible, don’t accept or use plastic bags. A growing number of consumers and retailers are selling and allowing consumers to bring in cloth, reusable bags to hold their purchases. Consider this the next time you go grocery shopping. One other important, closing point on bags: Don’t bag your recyclables. If your mind seeks tidiness and works categorically, as mine does, it might be tempting to want to bag your recyclables. But you’re doing far more harm than good. Recyclers have to break open every plastic bag, and this just slows down what should be a very productive process.