When in doubt, toss it out

Emma Putahl – Opinion Columnist

We desperately need to talk about what is and isn’t recyclable. The “golden rule” for recycling is ‘when in doubt, toss it out.’ I would much rather see recyclable goods in a trash can than trash in the recycling bin.
When trash or contaminated goods that seem like they are recyclable (looking at you, greasy pizza box) ends up in the recycling bin, everything in that bin goes to a landfill. Everything. So the half full bottle of coke or the plastic grocery bag that seems like it could be recycled makes it into that bin, the other two tons of clean recycling are now deemed ‘contaminated’ and are now trash.
Most recycling mistakes I see are from common misconceptions about what is and isn’t recyclable. I’ve made many of the mistakes I see all the time. If you really don’t know where it belongs, ask, look at the signs around campus, or just throw it in the trash.
The main issues are with food contamination or plastic that is not recyclable in commingled recycling.
The pizza box with a grease stain. Either compost the box, or rip the contaminated parts out and put them in the trash or compost, and place the clean cardboard into the recycling. Try to take off any stickers that may be on the box and throw those away.
Plastic bags. Many of us use plastic bags as bathroom trash bags or maybe it’s your recycling collector. I can’t think of any plastic bags that can go into commingled recycling. This includes the bags that many deliveries come in, typically from Amazon. Those plastic bags can go into one of the designated TREX boxes (the big cardboard box with a lid, typically full of other plastic bags and located directly across from the post office). That is the only place they belong.
A few reminders for our more unusual recycling needs. Candy wrappers basically always go into the trash. One of the only ones I can think of that can be recycled are clean ‘Kisses’ aluminum foil wrappers, preferably in a larger aluminum ball. No paper or candy left on the wrapper and we can keep a little more waste out of landfills.
Another unusual recycling conundrum is Post-It notes. I don’t know about you, but I love Post-Its. Not a week goes by without me using them for something. They are technically recyclable BUT the sticky coating that makes them perfect for putting reminders for yourself (or your roommates) around the dorm is not recyclable. Luckily for us, it is a super easy fix. Just rip the sticky part off and place that in the trash, the rest of the non-sticky paper can go in the recycling bin.
There are many resources to help us become better at correctly separating our waste. There are websites (how2recycle.info, epa.gov/recycle and better yet epa.gov/recycle/how-do-i-recycle-common-recyclables), signage on campus and many packages tell you exactly how they can be recycled (I have seen post office packaging claiming to be recyclable but seems highly questionable to be sorted in with any of the types of recycling we have available on campus).
Recycling takes practice. Everybody has made mistakes. The sooner we can all learn to be better and proper recyclers, the sooner we can divert recyclable materials from landfills. Lets keep our recycling contamination free and remember that the trash can and recycling bin are not mutually exclusive.

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