It’s time to trash talk. We live in a society of consumerism and convenience. We are leaving a trail of discarded containers and products in our wake.
Let he who is without a plastic bottle throw the first stone, for I am as guilty as any of the rest of us. Instead I’ll throw some knowledge at you on how we can all improve our behaviors.
The first thing I’d like to do is remind you all that the three ‘R’s are in order. You should make efforts to Reduce, then Re-use, and then Recycle.
Do you really need that flimsy water bottle, or will a water fountain suffice?
How many plastic bags do you really need to get your groceries home?
Can you wash out and re-use water bottles?
Can you re-use plastic grocery bags as trash bags around the house or switch to re-usable bags?
Admittedly, this isn’t practical in all situations. We need single-use water bottles at times. When traveling, sometimes keeping a reusable bottle clean isn’t practical.
Keeping a few cases of water bottles at home for emergencies is smart. Sometimes there isn’t a water fountain and there are only vending machines.
Here’s the big knowledge boulder. When it comes to recycling, we are doing too much in the wrong ways.
Most of us are so enthusiastic about recycling that we are throwing actual garbage haphazardly into recycle bins and hoping for the best. This is referred to as “wishcycling” and it’s an increasing problem.
Just because we want something to be recycled doesn’t mean it can be recycled. And even if in theory it could be recycled, that doesn’t mean there is a market for it. Without a market, that stuff ends up going to a landfill.
This is especially a problem for single stream recycling where contamination is sending lots of the good stuff to the landfill. If you’re putting cans, bottles, paper, and whatever else together in the same bin, that’s single stream.
Contrast this with the Forsyth County recycling centers where there are separate bins for different types of recyclables. In separated stream recycling, we are often better about putting stuff in the right place. With single stream, we like to believe anything and everything can go in.
What we believe is wrong, and again, I am not without sin. I’ve been throwing glass into my bin at home for more than two years, but I just learned my recycler doesn’t accept glass in recycle bins.
My good intentions have been causing problems at their sorting facility, and that glass is still ending up in a landfill.
If I’m lucky, only the glass has been thrown out, and I haven’t had entire loads of recyclables thrown in the garbage for being contaminated.
I encourage you to check with your recycling provider to learn what they do accept and what they do not. If in doubt, throw it out. It’s better to have a few maybe recyclables go to a landfill than an entire truck of actual recyclables get thrown out because it was contaminated with our wishes.
As for me, I will be separating my glass from my single stream recycle bin and taking it separately to Forsyth County’s convenience centers to recycle them.
These centers are also nice to bring the larger of my Amazon boxes to since they don’t fit in my home bin and if they get wet, they are no longer recyclable.
Also plastic film and grocery bags should be separated. These can’t be recycled single stream or at the Forsyth County centers, but most grocery stores have drop off bins for plastic bags to be recycled. But make sure they are clean and free of stickers or lost receipts.
Similarly, for those things we can recycle, they do need to be reasonably clean. Food containers that have food left in them are trash and can contaminate other recyclables.
Rinse out your No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, and I’d recommend removing the lids (though this is debated in the recycling industry). You can run them through the dishwasher if you have empty space. It’s OK if they melt a bit. Better to have them deformed than dirty the rest of the bin. This will help keep pests away from your recycling bin.
Greasy or food contaminated cardboard needs to go in the garbage, especially pizza boxes. Boxes that go in the freezer probably can’t be recycled either.
But don’t take my word for it. I did a bit of research, but most recyclers are happy to answer questions and often have guides on their websites. Ask if you aren’t sure!
Earth911.com also has a lot of good information about how and where you can recycle stuff that your single stream pickup can’t handle. Our wishes can become reality with a bit of knowledge.
Daniel Fleck is a resident of Forsyth County, engineer and driving enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.