Is this taking recycling just a little too far?

My wife and I have been separating our recyclables for years. Before the city started curbside recycling, we’d take it to the local Wal-Mart which had a recycling drop-off, and later we hired a local guy who would pick it up from the curb once a week. So we’ve always been a little more environmentally conscious than average.

However, my wife takes it much more seriously than I do. I will rinse out cans, plastic yogurt cups, etc and throw them in the recycling. In my opinion stuff doesn’t need to be squeaky clean as long as you make some effort to get the food off. I don’t even bother with things like peanut butter jars, margarine tubs, etc because they’re just too hard to get clean, so in the trash they go. My wife, on the other hand, will throw them in the sink and wash them with all the other wash-by-hand dishes. Which is fine if she wants to do it, just don’t expect me to follow suit.

Because of the recent news about the giant floating island of plastic and garbage out in the ocean, she is now refusing to use plastic straws when we eat out. She bought a set of metal reusable straws that she keeps in her purse and washes them out when she gets home. She hasn’t started keeping forks and spoons from home in her purse to use instead of the plastic ones, but I figure it’s only a matter of time.

But here is where I think she’s starting to take it a little too far. The other night we took the grandkids to Chick-fil-A for dinner, and as we were leaving my wife started collecting the plastic salad containers and the kids’ chocolate milk bottles so she could take them home and throw them in the recycling. “I don’t want them winding up in the ocean!” she said. She’s apparently been doing this for a while now when she takes the grandkids out for lunch, it’s just the first time I had noticed it. And I guess it just seems a little extreme to me, but I don’t know… What do you think?

I wash out everything that goes in my recycling, just like your wife does yours.

Where I grew up, we didn’t throw a lot of food away in the trash: too many bugs and critters that could and would get into it. And where I lived in the late 1980s when municipal waste recycling began, it was made clear that all that food and whatnot on stuff would compromise and increase the costs of the program.

It’s just a habit that I have now that I see no reason to break. And lots of times when I’m out I’ll take my trash home so I can put it in the recycling rather than throw it in a nearby trash can.

ETA: TL;DR: No; I don’t think what your wife is doing is extreme.

I would avoid telling her that a very large fraction of plastic pollution in the oceans may be making it there from the washing machine.

I’m sure she already checks pockets before running a load of wash. Or is it supposed to be coming from somewhere else?

Also, are you saying that your local fast food places don’t have recycling bins?

Is washing recyclables at home actually better for the environment than washing them industrially at the recycling center?

It is polyester microfibers being shed into the sewer from the cloth (of course, if you are on a septic system, it would be a different story).

#1: if milk bottles and solid containers in the regular trash would somehow end up in the ocean, then so would the regular trash they were mixed with. If that’s the case, then she must be privy to a much larger problem the rest of us are totally unaware of.

#2: Assuming you really do live in “The Sunflower State” (i.e. Kansas - I had to look that up), then I wonder how your regular trash (or any plastics mixed in with it) might make its way to the ocean. Kansas has 50 landfills; Chick-Fil-A’s trash is probably not leaving the state.

I think recycling bins in FF restaurants in the US is, at present, still a rare thing.

Plastic in the oceans is not coming from plastics thrown in a garbage can. If she throws her straws in a trash can, the likelihood of it ending up in the ocean is vanishingly small.

The vast majority of ocean plastics is coming from southeast Asia. According to this source China puts out about 32 times more plastic in the ocean than the US does. That is because the US (generally) properly handles our plastics.

It depends on where you live, but the chances of any trash I throw out ending up in the ocean are effectively zero. I’m about as far from either shore as you can get.

That’s been my experience, as well. The only fast food chain here in the Midwest that I’ve seen with separate recycling bins next to the trash is Culver’s.

That said, it looks like Yllaria, who asked the question, may be in California, and it wouldn’t surprise me if California has laws requiring recycling by restaurants.

I say ‘too far’.

The "garbage island is not a big pile of milk jugs floating out there. It’s a bunch of very tiny to microscopic chunks, and they’re not a big slurry but an extremely low-density patch over a large area. You could probably swim through it and not notice it, the issue is that it doesn’t move away.

The reason to recycle is more about saving resources than worrying about where it will all end up. And while I recycle as much as possible, plastic is quite frankly not worth recycling that much.

We have a FF chain in this area that uses materials formulated for composting, including plastic forks and sauce cups. Only a few items, like commercial condiment packs and one or two other things, do not go into the compostable-waste bins.

I must be a bad person - I don’t wash my recyclables. I just throw them into the bin. I can’t believe I’m the only person who does that.

According to what I’ve read, it gets washed after it’s shredded anyway.

OTOH I brought my empty shampoo bottle home from the gym and tossed it in the recycle bin rather than in the trash at the gym. I also pick up Leet the Wonder Dog[sup]TM[/sup]'s poops when we go for Nice Walks with the plastic bags I get from Wal-Mart and toss them in the trash, bag and all. Where, I assume, they go into a land fill. I suppose I should put the poop into the toilet, wash the bag, and recycle. Or maybe not - you can’t recycle recycled plastic, and those bags might be recycled already.

It’s not easy being green, as Kermit tells us.


I live in San Francisco, where all restaurants (all businesses of any kind), including the little takeout sandwich and salad places that I visit regularly, have separate bins for landfill, recycling and compost, along with signs indicating what goes where.

It’s strange when I’m traveling outside of the city and I instinctively look for the bins to separate garbage. It now feels wrong to toss everything into one bin.

Shoeless - Has your wife thought about getting involved with any organizations promoting recycling in Kansas?

Actually recycling is low priority on the things you can do to help the environment. For example food waste. Why would anyone have more than a very small amount of food waste? Yet you see children routinely take more food than they will eat and leave a large amount of food waste on their plate. You ask the older generation and they were raised to eat everything on their plate. Or you see people carefully packaging up leftovers and putting them in the refrigerator–and later throwing much of those leftovers away after they get old.

Doesn’t the restaurant have a compost bin? Obviously, the employees can do whatever they want with the trash - but I am assuming that when I throw food waste into the compost bin at a fast food restaurant, it gets composted.

After finishing the thread - Is this that rare off of the west coast? I expect compost, recycling, and trash bins in places.

Recycling bins at fast-food restaurants are pretty rare here in the Midwest, and I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a compost bin at one.

I saw a separate compost bin in a food court when I was at the Atlanta airport earlier this week, and I think that was the first time I can remember seeing that.

Your wife is just out of place in Kansas & needs to move to California.

In our town (and many others in the Golden State), plastic straws, plastic bags, & plastic utensils have been outlawed. If you get take out food from a restaurant, you get no straw, bamboo utensils & paper containers (styrofoam is also not allowed). Dine in and you might get a metal or paper straw. And you must bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store to avoid harsh glares from other shoppers.

I know numerous people who bring their own containers to restaurants, either for take out food or leftovers. Your wife would fit in perfectly here.

I haven’t clicked on the link (yet) but I do remember when McDonald’s tried that, back in the 1980s, and it was a big waste of time, because for the most part, everything just ended up in the garbage anyway.

I reuse plastic, metal, and glass as much as possible, and if I can’t, I do wash it first if I’m going to put it into my recycle bin.