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To Toss Or Not

Simply put, recycling makes me nervous. My instinct is to pitch anything that looks like it can be recycled into the back bin in my kitchen. A year ago, I read an article on how we are contaminating our recycling bins with items that should not be there, raising the cost of recycling and forcing recyclers to direct large loads to landfills. In our frenzy to be good caretakers of the planet we are actually getting in our own way! That caused me to err on the side of caution and recycle less.

Then I came across an article in Forbes from 2017 that says that globally we throw one million plastic bottles every minute despite the fact that it takes 400 years for a plastic water bottle to fully decompose!! Gulp.

When I add to the mix that it is more expensive to recycle than to throw trash in a landfill - $147 vs. $28 per ton - my brain just freezes.

The latest round of confusion sent me straight to Teacher Google. According to Planet Aid, US recycles at comparable rates to several other countries, but there is room for improvement.

Here are some tips.

#1 Don't put recycling in plastic bags

Plastic bags are super light and they fly away and clog the recycling equipment. This is a particular hassle in the kitchen because stuff drips out of the bottles and cans into the bin causing cleaning headaches. Er...umm, we should be rinsing before tossing.

#2 And the corollary: nope to recycling plastic bags

Sorry to say that garbage and grocery bags aren't fit for our blue bins. If you must, take shopping bags to the grocery store and put them into a designated container. I try to remember to take my reusable shopping bags to the store but when I forget, I trash the shopping bags.

#3 Watch for food contamination

If your pizza box has scraps or your plastic containers have food, don't recycle them. Grease harms the recycling machines.

#4 Paper can be recycled multiple times

Go wild! But don't do the heavily colored or neon ones (think clothes that run). Shredded paper is processed into fiber through machines called "pulpers". They need to be put in paper bags, separated from other items.

#5 No can recycle hangers, ceramic items, drinking glasses, and wood

None of this is appropriate for curbside recycling. Our dry cleaner takes hangers so that one is easy. Drinking glasses have higher heat resistance and cannot be processed with other glass. Mason jars and wine bottles are fine. For all the times I've put broken drinking glasses into the recycling bin, ugh!

This stuff ain't easy! Which explains why recycling isn't keeping pace with total waste recovery.

Those triangle symbols ought to be our guide. Here are three simple rules to help us remember: 1 and 2 yes, 4 and 5 maybe (depending on where you live), otherwise no. Don't forget to check bottle caps - water, juice, milk, laundry detergent, and shampoo - as they may have a different number from the base.

Let's do the right thing. Let's toss into our bins responsibly.

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