Recycling right

recyclingA couple of weeks ago, our local paper published an interesting article about a “day in the life” of a Denver Recycling worker. I wish I had video of the way they pick up the carts – it is really cool. I think the city is catching on. For the first few months, I was out turning our neighbors’ carts around so they could be picked up. And maybe I’ll leave a cold can of Pepsi for them this summer.

In the City of Denver, we have an easy recycling process that lets us throw paper, paperboard (yay!), cardboard, glass, aluminum foil, cans, and plastic (if it is shaped like a bottle) into one container and wheel it out every other week for curbside pickup. I love the system.

We don’t have easy recycling for other materials like plastic tubs, styrofoam, electronics or sneakers. And when I walk around my neighborhood, I often see “mistakes” in the recycling bins. Here are a few tips on recycling right – by our rules, anyway. Check your own community’s rules to be sure you’re on track there:

  • The caps must be removed from plastic bottles. What to do with all those caps? Here is an extensive list of suggestions (some of which won’t even touch the plastic-cap problem). Between now and May 10 (Saturday!) take 25 or more caps to an Aveda store for recycling and get a free sample. No word on whether they’ll continue collecting after this weekend. The first list mentions several fund-raising efforts collecting caps – sounds like a good idea.
  • Metal pans (like a non-disposable baking pan) and large metal objects typically aren’t recyclable in your home bin. But in ours, steel cans and empty aerosol containers are OK.
  • Waxed/plastic-lined paperboard (like milk/juice cartons and tetrapak) isn’t recyclable through standard means. This is my #1 reason for switching to purchasing gallon (plastic, recyclable) milk jugs.
  • Plastic bags aren’t recyclable in our recycling carts. But nearly every grocery store now has a bag-recycling center by the door. AND, these centers accept not just grocery sacks, but case-wrap, newspaper bags, and more. Check the “how to” sign on your center (or ask your grocer to set up a center). Ours is always full, so it is obviously in high demand.
  • Lumber isn’t recyclable in the cart. Duh. But I’ve seen it there. Give it away, build something, use it for firewood (if it’s not pressure-treated — that stuff is carcinogenic!), chip it and compost it or use it for mulch … but the city can’t recycle it.
  • Styrofoam isn’t recyclable in the cart. Bag it up and take it to your local pack-and-ship store. At ours, they sell the packing peanuts at $3 or $5 for a bag. They just smile at me like “Sucker!” when I give peanuts I receive to them. But that’s OK; it’s worth it not to throw it out.
  • Other plastics — like #5 for yogurt and margarine tubs — ARE recyclable, they’re just not always accepted because the process can be more expensive. Earth911 has an interactive tool to let you find recycling programs in your area – or where to send things nationally.
  • CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs – These contain mercury, so they require specialized recycling. The EPA has a Web site with a map link to resources for recycling these and other hazardous materials. Many IKEA stores recycle them, and at least in Colorado, ACE Hardware now is recycling CFLs.
  • Sneakers can be reused or recycled. If they’re still in good shape (they just gave you blisters, or you’re becoming a couch potato instead), give them to a thrift store or donate them to be sent overseas. If they’re good and thrashed, Nike will convert them into surfacing. See this site for links.

Finally, for a great guide on all kinds of recycling, check this site.


2 thoughts on “Recycling right

  1. erin says:

    Nice blog post! I recently went to a plastics recycling event here in Portland, Oregon. It really opened my eyes about what can be recycled if there is a place that accepts certain plastics. I found out something which you mention above, that “film” is recyclable and can be recycled at grocery stores that have a place for recycling plastic grocery bags. I am interested in exploring what can / can not be recycled here. There are so many things that I have been thinking of as “trash” which could be recycled. I just never really examined my thinking about these things. One example is the wrapper for bagged lettuce. I always used to throw it away. Now I know, you are saying why are you getting the bagged lettuce in the first place? All I can say is that I call on the Twin Defense (!

    My experience at the recycling event did change my behavior. Last time I went shopping I got a head of Romaine, no packaging and we just planted some lettuce in our new raised beds (built with all left over wood from our basement remodel).

    In the next few months we will be moving to a similar “co-mingled” recycling system and I am looking forward to it. They recycle many things here in Portland but they don’t recycle everything. I am committing to save up some of the things that can’t be recycled until the next big recycling event. (Although I must say…my husband is not crazy about this idea!).

  2. cheaplikeme says:

    Good for you! I have a stash of “to be recycled” stuff in a downstairs closet. It’s actually not that big. I don’t know if my husband knows it is there. 🙂

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