Green Moment

“What can we put in our recycling bins?  What contaminates it?  Does everything really get recycled or is it just thrown out?”

What can or cannot be put into our weekly recycling bins is a constant source of confusion for many well-intended environmentally concerned residents.  Many rumors and much misinformation circulate abundantly.  To clear up some concern, Advanced Disposal does indeed have two separate trucks for pick up – one for trash, one for recycling.  Recycling is then brought to one of two recycling centers – one in Waunakee, Wisconsin, one in Plover, Wisconsin.  There, the items are sorted and separated for recycling.  Perhaps another “moment” can focus on the process once it gets there.  Tonight, let’s focus on what should or should not be put into our weekly bins.

Cardboard or paper is typically a clear-cut decision.  Any clean cardboard, office paper, brown paper bags, mail, or newspaper is accepted.  Think in terms of paper that can be ripped cleanly.  Anything that is wet, greasy, or soiled can, indeed, contaminate any other paper it touches to the point that none of it can be recycled.

Aluminum and metal containers are also readily accepted and should be lightly rinsed. However, pull tabs that are completely separated from the can are too small for the recycling equipment; for the safety of the recycling equipment, they should be discarded.  Any broken glass should also be discarded.

Plastic is what causes the most confusion.  On the bottom of all containers, the recycling numbers are marked.  #1 – 5 and #7 are accepted.  #6 is not.  Most plastic bottles, jars, and jugs are accepted.  They, too, need only be lightly rinsed.  Other items should be checked for their number; when in doubt, check the bottom of the container.

However, caps on these containers are typically not the same type of plastic as the containers.  Many of those caps even contain rubber residue.  Caps also can shoot off at a high speed when the bottles are crushed for transport, causing safety issues.  Another problem is that the caps can fall off during the sorting process and jam the equipment.  Caps should not be included in the weekly recycling bins.  The good news, though, is there is a wonderful use for those caps.  Kohls Children’s Museum is happy to take them to reuse in art projects.  Perhaps we could devise a drop off space in the Village where the caps could be collected to be brought to the museum.

Contamination is also a common concern.  Recycled items need to cleanly be the recyclable material.  Liquids and food waste contaminate any items they reach.  Plastic bags, holiday lights, wires, or hoses can get tangled in the equipment.  Batteries, especially lithium, can leak onto other items.  These items should all be avoided.

The bottom line:  feel comfortable recycling paper and cardboard, metal and aluminum containers, and most molded plastic jugs or bottles; be courteous about the condition and cleanliness of the items; remove plastic caps.