Recycling has become a part of everyday life in many ways. It’s creating jobs, saving money, protecting the environment, and protecting our health. Even as recycling is made easier with curbside pickup programs and separate disposal bins in public locations, the decision of what to put where can still be somewhat complicated. Here are some tips for properly handling and sorting items to uphold standards of health and safety within the process.
Keep These Out of Trash and Recycle Bins
Household hazardous waste (HHW) includes items that we use in our daily lives that contain potentially hazardous ingredients and require special care for disposal. When these products are not properly disposed of, harmful chemicals can be released into the environment and contaminate air, water, and the food we eat. Below is a list of items that are considered to be HHW and should be properly disposed of at an authorized collection site.
- Batteries: single use and rechargeable
- E-waste: televisions, computers, and other electronic devices
- Mercury-containing items: fluorescent lamps or tubes, thermometers
- Household and landscape chemicals: flammables, non-empty aerosol cans, cleaners, and pesticides
- Paints and solvents: latex and oil-based paint, paint thinners, and nail polish remover
- Building Materials: asbestos and treated wood
- Automobile related: antifreeze, batteries, motor oil and filters, tires
Many retailers, such as Home Depot, IKEA and Best Buy, collect batteries and/or fluorescent bulbs for free recycling. Paint stores will often take back paint for recycling, and some pharmacies, city halls, or police stations will collect expired medications. The simplest way to locate collection sites and services near you is to use the Recycling Search feature on Earth911’s website.
In order to protect the safety of the workers in recycling plants and to improve the efficiency of the process, there are some precautions that should be taken with recyclables. Putting the wrong items into the recycling stream can contaminate batches, cause injuries to workers, and result in waste of resources.
- Aerosol cans are recyclable in the bin designated for steel or aluminum but only if the can is completely empty, meaning it no longer sprays! If contents remain, the can must be properly processed by a HHW processing facility. Everblue instructor Greg Hamra recently toured a recycling facility in South Florida with Waste Management’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Shiraz Kashar. The tour was cut short when an aerosol can that should not have been in the facility exploded and caused a fire, resulting in an abrupt halt to operations and a complete evacuation. The WM staff was prepared and carefully followed emergency procedures, ensuring that everyone was safe. But there was frustration over the potential danger and waste of time and money that was easily preventable.
- Plastic bags should not be sent to mainstream recycling centers. The bags become entangled in the equipment, and employees must shut down machines and carefully remove the bags using sharp tools. It is a dangerous procedure that could be avoided. Most grocery stores have collection bins specifically for recycling plastic bags while also selling reusable bags to reduce the use of plastic.
- Do not recycle greasy containers, liquids, soggy items, or containers with food still in them. A light rinse is sufficient for most containers.
- Check with your curbside program to determine which numbers are accepted for plastic recycling.
- Shredded paper must be recycled separately because shredding shortens the fibers and lowers the grade of the paper, changing how a recycler handles it.
Take the time to learn what recycling resources and services are available to you. With as high as a 30% contamination rate of non-recyclables, tremendous costs, waste, and even danger can result from improper sorting. A little effort goes a long way toward protecting the health and safety of our homes, our workplaces, and our planet.