The dos and don’ts of recycling

When it comes to recycling, it can be tough to separate myths from reality.

How do we know what to recycle?

recycling bin
Photo courtesy Miami-Dade County

Melinda Paduani, a Ph.D. student in the FIU Institute of Environment’s CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment fact checked on a few statements you may have heard when it comes to recycling:

  • “If your cardboard box has food residue on it, like a pizza box, don’t recycle it!”TRUE.  Any items that retain food residue are not acceptable. It’s not possible to really clean a pizza box since the grease stays in the cardboard fibers. The paper fibers cannot be separated from the foods’ oils and therefore can’t be recycled properly.
  • “Sure, you can recycle plastic bags…”SOMEWHAT TRUE. While these items can be recycled by specialized processors, they should NOT be put in your curbside recycling bins. Instead, bring them to a local grocery store for recycling.

“Over one-third of recycling in Miami-Dade County is contaminated, and bags are a big part of that,” Paduani said. “They also gum up the recycling equipment at the plant.”

  • “You don’t have to clean your recyclables before binning them.”FALSE. Glass bottles, cans or plastic containers should be cleaned before being thrown into the recycling bin. It doesn’t take much to ensure these are clean enough to be recycled – just rinse them out and let them dry, then chuck them into the recycling bin. It’s important to keep food waste and liquids out of the recycling bin so there is no contamination.
  • “Every bottle with a recycling resin number symbol can go in the bin!”SOMEWHAT TRUE. It used to be that only some of those numbers you see on your plastic bottles could actually go in your curbside recycling bin. But nowadays, some counties like Miami-Dade are able to pick up all narrow-neck plastic bottles regardless of the number listed, meaning that the mouth or spout is narrower than the rest of the bottle. These include beverage bottles, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, etc. Numbers on plastics are no longer a useful indicator of an item’s recyclability. It’s important to contact your local waste management authority to find out their guidelines.
  • “Packaging that has mixed-materials can still be recycled.” FALSE. Things like sticky notes or toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled because the different materials cannot be separated from each other, like the adhesive strip from the sticky note paper or the metallic lining from the plastic toothpaste tube. Glossy plastics or waxy coating on boxes are other examples of items containing multiple materials that can’t be separated, making them non-recyclable.

“Being more selective about items that you are unsure of may be better at reducing contamination at large and increasing the efficiency of recycling,” Paduani says.

In Miami-Dade County, there are five types of recyclables:

  1. Paper: Clean and dry newspapers, magazines, catalogs, telephone books, printer paper, copier paper, mail and all other office paper without wax liners.
  2. Cardboard: Packing boxes, cereal boxes, gift boxes and corrugated cardboard. Flatten all boxes before placing them in your cart.
  3. Cans: Steel and aluminum food & beverage cans. Aluminum bottles are also accepted.
  4. Cartons: Aseptic poly-coated drink boxes, juice cartons and milk cartons.
  5. Bottles: Plastic milk, water, detergent, soda and shampoo bottles (flatten and replace cap). Glass bottles.

While recycling is an important part of taking care of our planet, the most important thing to remember is to use less so you waste less.

Lots of plastics are not recycled properly, so it is better to try to go plastic free. Try not to purchase plastics when there’s an alternative, like paper. If you have to use plastic, be aware of where these items may end up. Intact plastic rings and straws often end up in the ocean and kill sea life. Remove and cut up plastic rings or straws from containers before disposing of them.

Staying clear of plastic products whenever possible and recycling the rest of your appropriate waste is an easy way to protect our planet. Remember to check your local waste authority’s website for more specific information on how your neighborhood recycles.