7 Ways You Can Reduce the Cost of Recycling

Since I was in grade school, my family has recycled.  I remember the day my parents asked us kids, ‘What’s one thing you would like to have changed in the house?’ 

I wanted to start recycling!  (Are you wondering what the other kids wanted to change? One of my brothers wanted everyone to stop picking his nose; I doubt that request was enforced.) 

At the time, only a few houses on our street had their own recycle bins.  What’s more, the size of the first indoor recycle bin we had was no bigger than a small office trash bin.  Now, every house on our street has a recycle bin and our indoor recycle bin is equal in size to our regular house hold trash bin.  

Now, recycling centers accept a vast majority of recyclable items.  For example, our recycling center accepts almost all of recyclable plastics (#1-6), glass, paper and metals. 

Even though recycling centers are accepting a most of recyclable materials and recycling has become a household tradition, the cost of recycling continues to increase. The cost of recycling has recently had a sharp increase due to new regulations in China.  China used to be a main importer of recyclable material but has recently placed strict limitations on the amount of contamination allowed (0.5%) which some deem impossible. 

These contaminates could be a scrap of food in the paper or a non-recyclable plastic grocery bag in the plastic bottles. 

These non-recyclables or contaminates also increase the overall cost of recycling.  Once, the contaminates are in the bulk recyclables, they must be sorted out either by hand or by machine processing.  Once they are separated from the bulk recycle, the contaminates are then sent to the landfill. This means extra man power and extra gasoline used due to the lay-over in the recycling plant before ending up in the landfill.  

We can’t do much about where the recyclables are sent, but we can reduce the amount of contaminates and non-recyclables found in the bulk recycle. 

To help reduce contaminates and keep the cost of recycling low, here is a guide to increase recycling rates in your area.  

*This guide does not list every recyclable or non-recyclable item.  Please check with your recycling center for a full list.

 No Styrofoam

Styrofoam is not typically recyclable in city recycling bins. 

Why? It has a fire retardant sprayed on it.  And, Styrofoam is made from a few different starting products making each one a little different and difficult to sort by eye.

Alternative Styrofoam Recycling Options: 

Select UPS locations reuse Styrofoam peanuts and packing blocks.  Call to see if any in your area reuse these items before tossing in the trash.

Another option, to those of you who live in Phoenix, AZ, you can drop off Styrofoam at Earth Friendly Building Materials at their office location at 205 South Industrial Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281.

No Frozen Dinner Boxes

Why? Most of these boxes are coved in a plastic film to prevent freezer burn and frost buildup.  The plastic film prevents the cardboard from breaking down as it should. These boxes are not recyclable.  However, the plastic dish that you microwaved your food in may be recyclable, so double check the number on the bottom of the plastic.

Rinse All Items that Contained Food

Why? Un-rinsed food items cause contamination during the recycling process.   After the items have been sorted, they must be cleaned before becoming new plastic, metal or glass.  Plastic recycling is most impacted by contaminates, like food particles.

Make Sure All Items Are Dry

Why?  If the items contain water, they weigh more. Items are tied together in large quantities and this quantity is based on weight.  If they all contain a little water the weight measurement will be off and reduce how much material is recycled. After rinsing don’t replace the cap, if it has one, as it will retain moisture.  Instead take the cap off and toss it in the recycling.

Remove the Top of the Pizza Box

Why?  All cardboard is recyclable unless it is contaminated with food, grease, paint, etc.  If any part of the pizza box has more than a couple of drops of grease, it should not be recycled.  Often, the bottom of the box has a lot of grease but the top of the box is clean.  So tear off the top of and toss it in. recycling 50% of the box is better than 0%.

No Plastic Bags/Plastic Packaging/Shrink Wrap

Why?  It clogs the sorting equipment.  It causes the sorting equipment to get clogged, can cause costly repairs and at a minimum it causes shut-down time for the plastic bags to be removed.

Alternative Plastic Bag Recycling Options:

Drop them back off at the grocery store, reuse them as pet waste bags or avoid them like the plague and bring your own grocery bag. 

Is the Plastic Cap Recyclable?

Double check the bottom of the container to make sure that all the recycling numbers are able to be recycled at your center. Sometimes the plastic caps on bottles are a different number than the bottle and may not be recyclable.  I recently learned that a plastic bottle cap, on a gallon of tea is a #7 and not currently recycled at my city recycling center. 

No Coffee Cups Unless Specifically Noted

Why? Most drink cups and coffee cups are lined with a plastic film that is similar to plastic wrap (not recyclable).

Make sure these cups are recyclable before tossing them in.  Just because they feel like cardboard or paper on the outside doesn’t mean that they are able to be recycled.

Instead, bring your own drink container and you can save the energy it takes to make these non-recyclable cups.

By reducing the number of non-recyclables sent to the recycling facilities we increase the overall recycling rate, decrease the cost of recycling and reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill.  

infograph showing 7 ways to increase recycling efficiency and reduce recycling cost

“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”
– Annie Leonard, Author and Proponent of Sustainability


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