If you've ever found yourself struggling to grasp the dos and don't of recycling, you're not alone. The truth is, recycling best practices change from business to business and city by city. It can be difficult to understand and keep up with the dos and don'ts while your busy focusing on what's most important for your business. An article from HuffPost references a new study by the Grocery Manufacturing Association (GMA) which found 92% of respondents were unclear about what they should put in the recycling bin. So how do you make the dos and don't of recycling more clear for yourself and your employees? It's easier than you think! Continue reading to learn why recycling tends to be confusing for most people, and how spending a few minutes reviewing the dos and don'ts of recycling will help your business maximize the positive impact of your recycling efforts.
Why Is Recycling So Confusing?
Most businesses we speak with tend to agree about one thing in regard to recycling: it's confusing. With the wide range of recyclable materials, differing rules and guidelines depending on what region you are located in, and growing list of 'banned' items, it's not surprising that so many people feel this way. Here's a breakdown of what sparks the confusion:
NO UNIVERSAL RECYCLING LAW
Most Americans are unaware no universal law exists that mandates which materials are recyclable. This means the recycling rules and practices vary based on location. For example, although most recycling facilities are now equipped to recycle plastic bottle caps, they used to cause issues with recycling equipment at materials recovery facilities. Some facilities asked that the caps be kept on the bottle, some required them to be separated, and some did not accept them at all. Figuring out whether your local recycling facility accepted the caps was up to the business or consumer to figure out. As you can imagine, not knowing your local recycling rules can lead to very low recycling rates.
PLASTIC RECYCLING SYMBOLS ARE MORE CONFUSING THAN HELPFUL
Plastic recycling symbols can be more confusing than helpful. A total of 68% of the respondents interviewed by the GMA said they assume any product with a recycling symbol would be recyclable, and 24% said they did not know. Turns out, only two (PETE #1 and HDPE #2) of the seven plastic resin codes are widely accepted by most curbside recycling programs. To-go coffee cups, plastic bags, and Styrofoam are among the products that have recycling symbols on them, but are not recyclable.
SINGLE-STREAM RECYCLING IS AN INEFFECTIVE COLLECTION METHOD
Single-Stream recycling is the process of collecting all materials in the same recycling bin, including paper, plastic, metals, glass, and cardboard. Most businesses use this collection method because it's easy to collect recyclables all in one place. However, most business owners are shocked when we tell them just because you recycle all your materials in the same bin, doesn't mean they get recycled. Single-Stream recycling may be easy, but it leads to rampant contamination and renders most materials non-recyclable. Recycling is most effective when materials remain clean and free of impurities. To ensure businesses recycle more and receive the maximum value for their materials, we focus on and highly-recommend clean-stream recycling: containing recyclable materials into separate bins to maximize their value and minimize your costs.
The Dos and Don'ts of Recycling
We want to make sure your business understands how to build your recycling initiatives around the current guidelines and best practices, so we created this list of all the dos and don'ts you need to know. Learn which common mistakes to avoid, which materials are recyclable or not, and discover best practices for receiving the highest recycling rates:
DO CHECK FOR LOCAL REQUIREMENTS
Recycling plants can be set up to handle different items, so always check with your local recycling provider to see which materials they accept. Recycling plastics can get especially tricky because of the different types of plastic. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions!
DO SEPARATE YOUR MATERIALS BY STREAM
Sort your recyclable materials by the following streams: cardboard, commingled (glass, aluminum, plastic), mixed paper and compost. By separating your materials into specific bins before collection, your items stay clean all the way to the recycling facility, making it easier and more efficient for materials to be processed. This collection method leads to higher recycling rates and significant cost-savings. While tossing all of your recyclables in the same bin is the easier option, clean-stream retains the value of your materials and significantly increases your recycling rate.
DO EMPTY ALL FOOD AND BEVERAGE CONTAINERS COMPLETELY BEFORE RECYCLING
Plastic, metal and glass materials must be emptied and rinsed clean before recycling. Do not recycle materials with food or drink contamination because they will contaminate the whole load and the materials will end up in landfill.
DO BREAK DOWN ALL CARDBOARD BOXES
It's best practice to break your cardboard down to optimize the space in your container(s) and reduce the amount of pickups your business requires. Check out our post for properly breaking it down here.
DO RECYCLE PLASTICS #1,2,5
It is important to understand that a plastic resin code on a product does not guarantee the product is recyclable in your area. Currently, only PETE and HDPE are widely recycled under curbside recycling programs. PETE is the most commonly used plastic, and can be found in soda and water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing bottles, peanut butter containers and many other clear bottles. HDPE can be found in house-hold products like milk jugs, cleaning containers, shampoo and detergent bottles. Always be sure to rinse and recycle these plastics! Learn more about plastic recycling symbols here.
DO NOT RECYCLE PLASTIC SHOPPING BAGS WITH OTHER RECYCLABLES
Thin plastics like grocery bags tend to clog up recycling equipment at processing facilities. They require special recycling capabilities that many recycling facilities are not set up for. Most grocery or retail stores will collect and properly recycle your plastic bags for you. Also, reusable bags are a great alternative to plastic grocery bags.
DO NOT RECYCLE GREASY PIZZA BOXES
People have debated whether or not pizza boxes are recyclable for a long time. Cardboard and paper with grease, oil or wet surfaces cannot be recycled because the oils cannot be separated from the fibers. Never recycle fibrous materials that have been contaminated.
DO NOT RECYCLE YARD WASTE OR ORGANICS
Yard waste or organics will contaminate your valuable recyclables. However, composting is a great recovery method for your business' leftover organic materials. Check out our guide to workplace composting here.
DO NOT RECYCLE PLASTICS #3, 4, 5, 6, AND 7 CURBSIDE
PVC (#3), LDPE (#4), PP (#5), and PS (#6) plastics are typically not collected curbside because these plastic materials get stuck in the sorting equipment in recycling facilities. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), commonly referred to as Vinyl can be found in food wrap, window cleaning bottles, piping, medical equipment, plastic gloves, siding and food packaging. LDPE (Low-density Polyethylene) is found in shopping bags, carpet, squeezable bottles, furniture, clothing and frozen food packaging. More durable items like furniture, luggage and toys are made from PP (Polypropylene). And PS (Polystyrene) can be found in egg cartons, Styrofoam, disposable cups and dinnerware. PS is commonly disposed of after one use and does not decompose. Check with your service provider to determine if any of these plastics are accepted in your recovery program. If not, reduce your use of these plastics.
We encourage you to reduce confusion in your workplace, without spending too much time, by sharing this guide with your employees, tenants, or cleaning staff. What is your business' process for reducing recycling confusion? Do you have any dos or don'ts that weren't mentioned in this post? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading!