Recycling question

I try to recycle as much as I can. My local municipality collects mixed recyclables all in one can. I’ve been reading lately that much of what gets disposed in this way may not be useful for recycling due to contaminants (not just non recyclable material mixed in). For example, pizza boxes should not be recycled - even though they are generally good cardboard, any grease makes them useless.

My question is what are necessary recycling practices to ensure the stuff I’m trying to recycle does not end up as waste, or worse, cause other recyclable materials mixed in to also be disposed? Do I have to remove all tape and staples from shipping boxes? What about the used bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch that I rinsed out to get most of the leftovers out but was certainly not thoroughly clean plastic? Can soda bottles with plastic caps or rings be recycled, or should I separate those from the bottle as they are different types of plastic?

A related question is how does this stuff all get sorted given that paper, different plastics, and metals are all in one container? Does any contamination cause everything else mixed in to go to the waste stream instead?

Recycling procedures are local. The answers to your questions will be found at your town dump, recycling center, transfer station or whatever they call it. My town is very specific about what they can and can’t take, and they will tell you why.

The easiest way to answer all these questions would be to check your municipality’s website or newsletter. It will almost certainly give you guidelines for what you can and can’t recycle which can be vastly different from one place to the next, both in what can be recycled and how it needs to be sorted.

There’s any number of documentaries/youtube videos about exactly this (sorting). In short, everything runs across a conveyor belt, ferrous metal is pulled out with magnets, paper is separated by dropping everything onto a belt running uphill. Paper goes up, everything else falls down. Other things can be pulled out by air (either a vacuum that pulls light things up or jets of air and optical sensors), putting things in water (light floats/heavy sinks) and, of course, humans at several steps along the way.

Here’s my local info.

Why they indicate containers should be “empty and rinsed” I’m not sure if that means completely clean (washed). Ditto on the cardboard - does packaging tape make it unusable? I’ve actually toured the facility with my kids school field trip and did. To think to ask these questions. They showed us the main sorting area “the claw” but not how everything actually gets sorted into different plastic types, etc.

Separately but related, I’m at a loss on how to even dispose of some stuff. I’ve been saving various electronics and components for the special waste collections that are often run, but hey seem particular on what they will take. For example, an entire old computer, but not a motherboard. No old tube TVs. No loose parts or small electronics (like a broken walk-in talkie). Most of our waste here is burned and/or buried and there are a lot of heavy metals in those things that I have no idea how to properly dispose of if the special waste collection won’t take them.

I have worked on plastics plants and am familiar with the recycling industry. Stay away from YouTube videos or your municipal waste Recycler because many of the videos maybe old and waste companies have their own agenda of maximizing profits first.

Here is what is happening :

  1. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) - the recyclable plastic in category 1 - marked on the bottles are getting recycled (when clean) in the US. These are the plastics in water bottles, mouthwash, soft drinks, etc. usually transparent. Recycling them is worth the effort.

  2. All other plastics and paper are heading to the landfill.

  3. Soda cans / aluminum is great for recycling. However remember that recycling Aluminum usually adds to air pollution with dioxins (if not carefully controlled). Glass varies by location.

  4. Washing bottles may make them clean and good for recycling but you have increased our fresh water footprint. This is a delicate subject and worthy of a thread on its own.

Also, the best course of action IMO is to build incinerators (with treatment of flue gases) to extract the energy out of un-recyclable plastic / paper and reduce landfill. This also eliminates plastics in the ocean and the incidences of birds/turtles with plastics stuck in their organs.

The waste management industry opposes incinerators because it cuts into their profit margins.

Cite please?

Non-ferrous metals (like aluminum) can also be separated out magnetically. You just need a rapidly-changing magnetic field. It sets up eddy currents in the metal that cause it to be repelled by the magnet. It’s the same principle as metal detectors, only to a greater degree.

And the best course of action for the environment is to not incinerate anything, so as to maximize the amount that gets put into landfills. All of that organic material is a lot better off sequestered in solid form than converted to CO[sub]2[/sub].

Agree with your post in general but this part is debatable.

If you burn carbon it makes CO2 , if you leave it in landfill, it decomposes to make CH4 (methane) which is 72 times (mass basis) as bad for global warming. Plus there are other problems with leaching into the soil (preventable but not always successful) and carryover to the waters during storm events.

Also there is a huge carbon footprint of transporting waste from urban areas to landfills which are typically miles and miles away from source.

Cite :

Those numbers are before the recycling crisis. Post recycling crisis the GHG emissions from landfills are only going to go up.

Also one of the lesser talked about “anthropogenic waste” is clothing.

You will see new batch of clothing every month at pretty much all clothing stores. Wonder what happened to the last month’s clothes ?

Many of the third world countries have stopped accepting used clothing because it kills their local markets. Even donated new clothing items are not desired in some places evidenced by the Toms shoes controversy.

In reality most of the clothing you donate at goodwill or Salvation Army or similar places will end up in landfills. These will add to climate change when they decompose.

Cite : Are Our Clothes Doomed for the Landfill? — Remake

AIUI, this is not required. The first step of recycling paper/cardboard is to pulp them. At that point they can mechanically remove such contaminates.

I’ve always understood that you should remove any caps or lids on plastic jars and bottles and throw them away. They may actually be made of the same kind of plastic, but they have one or more additional chemicals that changes its physical properties and that makes them unrecyclable. What to do about the rings, I don’t know.

Nothing in that cite actually says that the methane from landfills is more significant than the carbon dioxide one would instead get from burning the waste. First, when carbon-containing material is burned, all of the carbon ends up as carbon dioxide, but not all of the carbon in landfilled material ends up as methane. If it’s less than 1/72 of the carbon that becomes methane, then you’re already ahead. Second, while methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, it doesn’t persist nearly as long in the atmosphere. Third, it is often possible to capture the methane emitted by landfills, and put it to good use. While both the second and third point will eventually result in the methane being converted to carbon dioxide, again, it’s not going to be nearly as much.

Many recycling programs are now actually encouraging you to leave the plastic (not metal) caps on plastic bottles.

Again, you should check with your local recycling program operator to find out what their preferences are. Different areas have different technologies.

Recycle by City is a good resource if your city is listed there.

Most local recycling centers offer tours, where you can see what & how they do the recycling. And get all your questions answered by the people actually doing it.

I toured ours last year, and it was very interesting & educational.