Relearning how to recycle

If you frequently toss garbage into a recycling bin like it is last week’s laundry in your hamper, then maybe it is time for a recycling rules refresher. How and what to recycle is something we were likely all taught at a young age, but more often than not, we question whether we can actually throw something in the recycling. Many of us have hesitated in front of a bin, because in all honesty, the rules are a bit overwhelming. However, you are wrong if you think we cannot teach an old dog new recycling tricks. This list will hopefully clear up some of the confusion surrounding recycling. Warning: This information may impact how much you recycle, bust some widely-accepted myths and break bad habits.

1. Packages: Take off the label

In an age of instant gratification and convenience, online shopping has become extremely common. Our delivered goods sometimes arrive in obviously recyclable cardboard boxes. However, they can sometimes show up in questionable bubble-wrapped plastic. Many of these plastic packages, although they cannot simply be placed in your blue recycling bins, can actually still be recycled. Amazon plastic packages, for example, can be recycled once the shipping label is cut out or peeled off. Once the label is taken off, the package can be recycled at a participating location. You can find locations near you by typing in your zip code: This recycling method is a bit more labor-intensive, but is a great alternative to the garbage for frequent online shoppers.

2. Contacts: Turn them in, or take off the foil

Contact users burn through a lot more plastic than they’d probably like to admit, particularly users of daily contacts. Contacts generally come in blister packs with a plastic bottom and a foil seal overtop. One of the more popular contact manufacturers, Bausch + Lomb, offers a recycling program called One by One Recycling. The contact company is able to do this through their collaboration with TerraCycle, enabling them to recycle all parts of the contact (the blister pack, foil and plastic case). Even if your contacts aren’t from that manufacturer, One Recycling will still recycle your contacts. Although sending in your contacts to Bausch + Lomb is the best option to ensure that all parts of your contacts are being recycled, you can also recycle parts of your contact packages at home. Once the foil is removed from the plastic part of the blister pack, the high-grade plastic can be recycled in your blue bin. However, due to their small size, the tiny plastic pieces do need to be placed in a recyclable water bottle with the cap on before being placed in your recycling bin.

3. What do I do with electronics?

Although electronics are recycled infrequently, where they end up arguably has one of the largest impacts on the environment. Refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, dishwashers, trash compactors, air conditioners and water heaters can all be dropped off at the Inert Materials and Scrap Metal Drop-Off Facility located in Arlington. Electronics like old TVs, monitors, batteries and circuit boards can be difficult to dispose of. They often contain toxic metals like lead, cadmium and mercury. There are many options, however, to dispose of these electronics. People can donate them to charity boxes available at the Central Library, or drop them off at the Household Hazardous Materials Facility/Electronics Collection and Recycling Center, also in Arlington.

4. Plastic bags
When thinking of what could be considered trash, your mind likely races straight to traditional grocery store plastic bags. Although this material cannot be thrown in your household blue recycling bin, these plastic bags can be repurposed. They can also be recycled to be made into other items of the same material, or be turned back into plastic bags. First, it is important to remove any items within the bags (that can be removed without contaminating it) like receipts, crumbs and solid food. You can keep a plastic bag collection box or container somewhere in your house, and then you can deposit them at your local grocery store that allows for this.

5. Take off weird plastic things

Recycling mixed materials can get a bit tricky. To increase the chance that something will actually be recycled, separate any mixed materials. For example, in most cardboard tissue boxes, there is a little plastic sheath at the opening of the box to keep the tissues in place. Tear the plastic off and discard it as it is likely low grade, invaluable and not recyclable.Then, deposit the cardboard portion in regular recycling. If you’re eating a packaged snack and notice that the bag is paper but that there’s a clear plastic sheath in the middle or plastic lining the inside, take the plasticky stuff off! The rule of thumb here is to separate, separate, separate!

6. Takeout rules
Most takeout food containers can be recycled if they are cardboard or high-grade plastic. However, there are a few things you need to do before tossing your Chinese takeout containers or pizza boxes in the recycling. First thing is, you should always wash off food and grease as they are contaminants and lessen the value and recyclability of your products. Although Arlington does not require your containers to be spotless, they do ask for them to “be relatively clean.” For example, pizza boxes that are overly greasy must be placed in the trash. Going back to the mixed materials separation concept, some takeout containers have a metal handle. Because most miscellaneous metal is not recyclable through Arlington’s curbside pickup, removing the metal handle and discarding it the trash will ensure that your cardboard takeout box doesn’t end up in the garbage.

With global temperatures and sea levels reaching all-time highs, it is crucial that the species most responsible for climate change is doing as much as possible while it still is possible. Recycling is one of the easiest first steps we can take to ensure that we are minimizing the amount of waste in landfills and in nature, and it is especially important that we take note of these special rules that apply to recycling. Hopefully, after this list, you hesitate less often in front of the recycling bin and you toss those contacts (without the film) in the recycling with full confidence.