Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Green Tips for Holiday Recycling

My friends Christine and Mike at Green Dog Pet Supply, purveyors of environmentally friendly pet supplies and gifts in the Beaumont neighborhood of Northeast Portland, recently shared the following information on their blog. Some of it was news to me, so I'm hoping you'll be able to make use of these handy holiday tips, too!

Portland allows us to recycle a lot of things at curbside, including plastic plant nursery pots, empty spray oil cans, motor oil (next to bins in a clear milk jug) and food waste. In fact, in five years of curbside composting, the city has been able to turn food waste into over 400,000 tons of finished compost, which is enough compost to cover 2,400 acres of farmland, about 4 square miles. That alone is a lot of volume kept out of our landfills!

Unfortunately, it’s easy to contaminate our curbside recycling bins with well-intentioned attempts to recycle things we wish they would take, or with little things that we don’t realize can ruin the ability to recycle the rest of the material.

For example, lids are almost always made of a different plastic than the bottle or tub they’re sold with. It’s too work-intensive for workers to remove them—recyclers have too few people, too much recycling to pick through quickly, and everything still needs to get washed and processed or packed up to be processed elsewhere. Since the plastic in the lid is a very different plastic, with a higher melting point than bottles, they need to be processed an entirely different way.

Plastic bags and caps can also jam machinery when they get into the mix accidentally, which can cause damage and increases the likelihood that recyclers will toss “contaminated” recycling instead of sorting through it. A light bulb might be made of glass, but their different melting points and chemical compositions will ruin new glass bottles. If a buyer of glass sees a light bulb at the top of a load, the entire load could be rejected for recycling. This can mean that all of our good intentions are foiled, so when in doubt, leave it out!

Here’s a list of some common things that are mistakenly added to recycling, but could in fact be recycled elsewhere:
  • Soft plastic bags can’t go into your curbside recycling bin, but can be recycled at both Whole Foods and New Seasons (just not hard and crinkly bags like chip bags—those need go in the trash).
  • Plastic “clamshell” containers like spinach or to-go boxes can’t be recycled curbside, but can be recycled at both New Seasons and Whole Foods, as well as plastic things like yogurt/deli lids and coffee lids. (The coffee cups need to go in the garbage, because they contain waterproofing additives).
  • Any paper made to contain frozen foods or takeout containers must go in the garbage. It also contains additives to make them waterproof and these additives make it non-recyclable.
  • Any paper with decorative foil has to go in the garbage (though all other wrapping paper, tissue paper, cards and envelopes can go in, minus the ribbons). When it's time to unwrap gifts, you can set up two collection bags ahead of time, one for wrapping paper, tissue and cards, and the other for ribbons and foil. It can be fun for kids to be in charge of things, so have one little elf in charge of bringing presents to people to unwrap, and another little elf in charge of grabbing that wrapping paper and getting it into the right bag. You’ll be amazed at how much tidier the living room looks after present opening! And don’t forget: Those foil-covered papers and ribbons are great for kids’ craft projects.
  • Packaging peanuts and styrofoam cannot go in your curbside bin, but check for places will reuse them. The UPS and Fedex stores are often happy to take your clean, bagged styrofoam peanuts—call your local store and ask. Excess cardboard boxes and packing peanuts can be posted on Craigslist or Next Door. People who are moving might appreciate them, or small businesses in the neighborhood might be able to use them for shipping and might even come take them off your hands!
  • Styrofoam blocks are a challenge at the time of this writing. Check out this link for your options.
  • When you take a toy out of a formed plastic insert, take it to Whole Foods. They have a bin labeled “non-curbside plastic” which is good for caps, lids and other misc hard plastics.
  • Corks can’t go in curbside, but Whole Foods has a natural cork recycling bin inside the store. Just make sure it's natural cork, not a plastic cork.
More information on interesting things from your holiday dinners that you can include in the compost bin, plus resource links and helpful suggestions to reduce the amount of waste your household produces.

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