Refuse, Reduce, Reuse Before You Recycle
We live in such a disposable economy and the option to recycle something gives us the illusion that we are doing something good. And yes, recycling is good, but it should be our last option (okay, throwing something in the trash should be our last option).
Our first steps should be to REFUSE the item (such as a plastic bag), REDUCE the amount of the item you use, and REUSE it over and over as much as you can BEFORE RECYCLING.
Single Stream Recycling is Easy, But Confusing
Single stream recycling has made it easier for all of us to recycle right at our curbside, but it has opened the door to lots of confusion, too. What can be accepted often varies by jurisdiction, so it is important to check your local jurisdiction’s web site for what is and is not acceptable. You can search your local site by entering “residential recycling” or “curbside recycling” or “acceptable items for curbside recycling”.
If you live within the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia), I have included links below this article to web sites for local jurisdictions’ recycling pages.
If something is not acceptable in your curbside recycling, you might still be able to recycle it at another location. Earth911.com is a great resource for this. From their home page, look for the section on the right side that enables you to enter your zip code and what you want to recycle. It will then share with if there is a location where you can drop off that item. Be sure to call ahead and confirm that the location will still accept that item. Earth 911 also has a great app for your phone.
Based on my experience and research, here are 11 items that cannot be recycled via residential curbside recycling:
1. Plastic Bags, Wrap and Film
More and more communities are no longer accepting plastic bags, wrap, and film in curbside recycling because they jam the recycling machines, so LEAVE IT OUT OF CURBSIDE RECYCLING! Most plastic bags and certain types of plastic wrap and film can be dropped at participating stores. Check this web site to locate a drop off location near you and to see what is and is not accepted.
You may say, “A toothbrush is plastic, why can’t I recycle that?” Well, just because something is plastic doesn’t mean your community will accept it for recycling and that includes toothbrushes. Most plastic that is accepted is plastic containers. Currently, TerraCycle offers a free recycling program for toothbrushes. You just request a mailing label from TerraCycle and you can ship a box of old toothbrushes to them for free!
3. Pizza Boxes
Simply put, the soiled sections of your pizza box CANNOT be recycled, so put those in your trash. You CAN recycle the unsoiled sections.
If you have curbside composting (like we have here in Takoma Park, Maryland) brush off the extra food waste and tear up the soiled cardboard into small pieces and place in your compost container.
4. Plastic Cutlery
Plastic cutlery cannot be recycled, so just avoid it altogether. A better option is to use silverware whenever possible, but if you must use disposable cutlery, opt for a compostable version like World Centric which you can find nationally at Whole Foods Market and Ace Hardware and locally here in the DMV at MOM’s Organic Market and Yes! Organic Market.
5. Solo Cups
Those red and blue Solo® brand cups you see everywhere? They are actually made of polystyrene which is form of plastic, but it is not recyclable in most jurisdictions since most jurisdictions don’t accept polystyrene. A better option is something plant-based liked these cups made of corn. They look a lot like plastic cups, but they will compost completely in a commercial compost facility in 3 to 6 months. Even if you don’t have curbside composting available in your community and need to place this in the trash, these are a much better option than plastic.
Many jurisdictions do not accept polystyrene packing material and takeout containers in curbside recycling. So what do you do? Dart Container, the company that creates a lot of the stuff, will accept polystyrene at one of their drop off locations. They will NOT accept packing peanuts. Take those to your local packing store (see #11 below).
7. Wine and Beer Corks
Natural corks used for beer and wine can be recycled, just not curbside. ReCORK, a company that takes natural corks and turns them into consumer products such as yoga blocks, has collection locations around the United States and Canada.
8. Make Up
Mascara containers, cosmetic cases, your blush and lipstick. Yep, most are made of plastic or metal, but they are not recyclable in most curbside collection bins, so send them off to the people at TerraCycle where they will take any brand names as part of their Personal Care and Beauty Recycling Program.
9. Water Filters
10. Pet Food Bags
Plastic pet food bags are not accepted at curbside recycling or the locations mentioned in #1 above because they aren’t the correct type of plastic and they have food residue. So sadly, just place them in your trash — or use them as a one-time trash can liner!
11. Packing Material
As I indicated in #6 above, polystyrene is not accepted curbside by most jurisdictions and this includes polystyrene packing material. Packing peanuts are also usually not accepted either, so take these items to your local UPS or mom and pop packing store, but be sure to call first to confirm they accept it and have storage space for it.
Most of these stores will also accept other types of packing material such as air pillows, bubble wrap, and polystyrene foam sheets.
DMV Recycling Sites
Here is what is accepted around the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia:
Still have questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
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