Kicking fall leaves is fun, but kicking contaminants from your recycling is crucial! Before you can kick recycling contaminants, it’s important to know what they are. Recycling contaminants are:
1. Anything that is not accepted for recycling by your local program.
2. Materials that are recyclable but have been prepared incorrectly.
What harm do contaminants cause? To understand why recycling guidelines are important, it helps to understand what happens at the processing facility after materials are collected. At recycling facilities, often called MRFs (materials recovery facility), rapidly moving conveyor belts move materials from one sorting station to another. Complex machines separate materials by type. Workers provide quality control, pulling off items that don’t belong. Materials, such as plastics, metal cans, paper, and cardboard, are sorted and then baled with like material. Good quality bales that are desirable to manufacturers contain only the intended type of material.
When contaminants are placed in with recyclables, it takes time and money to remove them. Some contaminants are hazardous to workers, and others damage equipment. All contaminants lower the quality of the recyclables. Please help your community have a better recycling program by removing these contaminants. Here are the items that should NEVER be placed in a recycling bin or container.
1. Tanglers include hoses, cords, and clothes. These can get wrapped around spinning parts, automatically shutting down the machines used to sort the recycling.
2. Loose Plastic Wrap and Plastic Bags may cause problems in your local collection efforts. They can wrap around spinning parts just like tanglers do. They can also get pulled into fans and other equipment, causing clogs or overheating. Check with your local solid waste management district to see if they are included in your community program. If not, you may be able to recycle them at a local grocery or other store.
3. Bagged Items slow the process of separation. In some cases, a worker must pause to take time to open the bag, but usually the line is moving too quickly so the bag is pulled off and put into the trash. All recyclables should be LOOSE unless your community instructs you to bag a certain material for collection. For example, sometimes shredded paper is to be bagged.
4. Hazardous Materials can harm workers, damage equipment, and cause fires. Never place hazardous waste, pool chemicals, acids, needles and sharps, or paint in with your recyclables.
5. “Yuck” Items affect the quality of the recyclables and can make a difficult job even harder for workers. Please use common sense. Dirty diapers, food waste, and yard waste are not recyclable with paper, plastics, metal, and other typical recyclables. However, your community may have a separate program for yard and food waste. Call your local solid waste office to find out.
Remember when you recycle you are providing a commodity that will eventually be used to make new products. In order for your community recycling program to be successful— operationally and financially—everyone must recycle better. A high-quality recycling program is essential for the collected materials to find an end market. See China & the Evolving Economics of Recycling and Yes to Wishes: No to Wishcycling! to learn more.
For information about contaminants to avoid in the recycling program where you live, please check with your local solid waste management program.
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