Recycling: You may be doing it wrong

Sometimes, we put things in the recycling bin simply because we want them to be recyclable. A plastic bag, a greasy pizza box, a paper coffee cup, a styrofoam egg carton — we’ve all done it.

Although you may think you know what can and can’t be recycled, you might be what waste managers call an “aspirational recycler.”

And what you also may not realize is that putting these things in the blue bin can do more harm than good — as there’s a number of items that can contaminate a recycling batch.

This could mean a whole batch could end up not being recycled entirely and, instead, go straight to the landfill.

“Responsible recycling means recycling the right way,” said Eloisa Orozco, senior communications manager at Waste Management of Southern California.

Here’s what you need to know about recycling things the right way.

Keep it simple

Orozco suggests going back to the basics, and remembering that just because an item has aluminum or plastic doesn’t mean it’s recyclable.

For example, a paper coffee cup has a lining that makes it liquid-proof, which also makes it difficult to recycle as the materials have to be separated, and therefore is trash and not recyclable.

“Focus on bottles, cans, paper and cardboard,” Orozco said. “Those are the items that make a difference.”

Contamination

But before throwing anything in the recycle, make sure it’s all free of any contamination.

A greasy pizza box is the perfect example of a contaminated recyclable. Any liquids, food or grease need to be removed before an item is ready to be recycled, according to Orozco.

“All good efforts will go to waste because you are contaminating,” Orozco said.

Remember, pizza boxes have two sides to them, so if one side isn’t oily, you can tear it off and recycle it.

Before throwing anything in the recycle, make sure it’s all free of any contamination. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Plastic bags

You should also put your recyclables in the bin loosely instead of bagging them. Plastic bags aren’t easy to recycle and do not belong in your bins, according to Orozco.

“Plastic bags get caught up in machinery and can put workers in danger because they have to unwrap them from the machines,” Orozco said.

Instead, reuse your plastic bags or return them to designated recycling bins for proper handling. Many grocery stores and other retailers have bins in front by the door.

Styrofoam

The technology to recycle styrofoam does exist, but because of how light foam is, it is not cost effective for recycling companies to purchase, according to Shane McDonald, a recycling manager at Waste Management.

It’s also often contaminated with food or drink, and it’s difficult to clean because it’s so porous, McDonald said.

Hazardous materials

You should also remember never to put items that can be harmful to the environment in the recycle or even the regular trash.

These items include things like chemicals, electronics, needles or batteries. They can cause fires in bins, trucks or at waste facilities, so make sure to follow the special handling instructions.

The Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic offers recycling for electronics, appliances, metals and mattresses, while the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station has a disposal receptacle for needles and other sharps in front of the station.

Textiles

Do not put things like blankets, clothing or shoes in the recycling bin, as they also get tangled in the machine.

“Always thinking of textiles as donation first,” Orozco said. “If it’s reusable but still good, think about supporting local charities and donating them.”

Waste Management collects trash and recycling bins on Wednesday in Canyon Country. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

California Refund Value (CRV)

In California, we pay a CRV when we purchase certain beverages and in an effort to ensure that we recycle those containers, we receive CRV refunds when we turn them in at a recycling center, according to Felipe Preciado, manager at Sammy’s Recycling Center in Newhall.  

Most aluminum cans and plastic or glass bottles are included and allow you to get the money you paid back, Preciado said.

When visiting the center, your recycling is separate by type of material and put into a special basket so it can be weighed, which ensures that you are getting exactly what you paid for it.

CalRecycle regulates the prices, which often fluctuate due to how heavy or light certain plastic bottles are made, Preciado said. They then calculate how many bottles make a pound in order to create a fair price.

The “chasing arrows” symbol we see on plastic containers does not mean the product is recyclable, that’s what the number is for.

Polyethylene Terephthalate is No. 1. It is one of the most commonly used plastics and found in most plastic bottles. This is the most common plastic bottle that has a CRV, according to Preciado.

Sunny D, gallon water jugs and milk bottles are typically made of high-density polyethylene, which is No. 2. Although you do not pay a CRV for these, they are still able to be purchased as scrap plastic at most centers, Preciado said.

You can also recycle 50 items by count once per day in order to ensure you are getting your exact refund, Preciado said.

For more information on what you can put in your recycle bin, visit greensantaclarita.com.

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About the author

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga covers features and community for The Signal. She's new to the paper and Santa Clarita, but hasn't moved far from her hometown of Temecula, California. Emily graduated from San Diego State University in 2017 and has been writing and reporting since high school.