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What Do You Mean I Can’t Recycle That?

Plastic, paper, glass, and cardboard at a Recology facility in San Francisco

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

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But I thought I was helping by recycling…

how can I do better?

How Clean Do My Recyclables Need to Be?
(Courtesy of City of Santa Barbara Trash & Recycling Website)1.    More recycling is our goal: We want all the recyclables that are collected to be purchased by buyers who will recycle them. This can only happen if we have clean recyclables.

2.    Empty out liquids:  Empty plastic and glass containers are important because we don’t want to mess up other things like newspaper. Once newspaper or cardboard gets wet it will not be recyclable. For plastic beverage bottles with plastic caps, we recommend emptying them and then putting the cap back on to seal in any remaining drops. For items that have different material types, like a glass jar and metal lid, we recommend putting them in the blue bin separately after they have been cleaned.

3.    Acceptable dirtiness can vary depending on the material type, but in a comingled bin (paper, plastic, glass, etc. all together) cross-contamination can ruin materials: Unfortunately there isn’t a market for partially contaminated food plastics and when these are placed in the blue bin they can contaminate other high-value items like paper. When paper gets wet or dirty it will mold and be sent to the landfill.

Punchline: the container should be as clean as you can make it in a few seconds.  For a salsa jar that means empty, slight rinse, and tap to get all the water out. A plastic peanut butter jar, however, would take a lot of scrubbing to get clean and there’s no market for these types of food contaminated plastics, so we recommend that food plastics go in the trash.

Here are some links to learn more!

Remember “Recycle” is the 3rd R!
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