Stop Recycling! Five Things That Can't go in the Recycle Bin

In a world striving to be more green and eco-friendly, nearly every food container and plastic item is being placed in the recycling bin. While the recycling company may choose to pick these items up, not everyone can be recycled. There are five surprising pieces you may be placing in with your everyday recycling that end up in the trash anyway – waxed containers, batteries, grocery bags, glass dishes and styrofoam.

Milk cartons and other waxed containers, like frozen food boxes, are sprayed with a layer of plastic or wax to prevent damage at low temperatures. This plastic or wax coating prevents these items from being recycled. While the boxes may be picked up by the recycling company, they will be weeded out and thrown away with traditional trash to avoid tainting the pulp from other, recyclable containers. Some companies, like Amy’s Kitchen, are choosing to forgo the wax covering and ship their boxes in recyclable containers, but this is not common practice with milk, juice and other frozen food companies.

One time use batteries are not a recyclable material. These batteries contain small amounts of mercury which keep them in the hazardous materials category. There is a bit of metal that can be pulled from used batteries, the cost of recycling is much higher than the potential profit yield. Thus, most trash companies and recycling facilities choose to dispose of alkaline batteries in local landfills. The alternative is a nickel-cadmium rechargeable battery. They can be recycled when they stop holding a charge. Not all rechargeable batteries are manufactured from nickel and cadmium so watch the label to ensure the battery is made from recyclable materials.

Grocery bags are made from plastic and often recycled at different stores in a given local area, but the recycling facility cannot reuse this plastic. The material tends to get caught in sorting machines and can cost the recycling company many man hours removing each bag piece by piece from the other items in the bin. When a grocery bag or other plastic bag is missed during hand sorting, they can cause equipment breakage and damage. The helpful alternative to placing these bags in the recycling bin is to collect them and drop them off at a local retail store. As long as the bags are clean and dry, they can be recycled with special equipment made to deal with this type of plastic.

Glassware, ceramics and broken glass cannot be recycled. These items are created for multiple uses without breaking down. Because of this special manufacturing process, the glass melts at a much higher temperature than other pieces that can be recycled. There are no special facilities where these pieces can be reused, but freecycling or barter and trade websites are perfect for making use of old items no longer needed or wanted in the home. If broken glass is the problem, the pieces should be wrapped to prevent cutting the bag or the garbage handler and placed out with the normal trash.

Styrofoam and polystyrene can be used to hold and transport food. The porous material tends to absorb food particles which can cause trouble when attempting to recycle the material. Styrofoam, while it can be recycled at a very high cost, would have to go through a cleaning process before being eligible for reuse. The same goes for food containers made from polystyrene. On the other hand, CD jewel cases and cassette cases made from polystyrene can be recycled as they pose no environmental or personal threat due to food contamination.

Recycling is an easy way to reduce our carbon footprint. While people tend to want to recycle everything, putting trash in with the recyclables causes the items to be transported twice — once to the recycling facility and again to the land fill. All that travel isn’t very green. So, take the time to sort your trash and learn what can and can’t be recycled.

— Darla Blackmon

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