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6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong

The New York Times

We have all done it: a greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag. Sometimes, we want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin.

Waste managers often call this wishful or aspirational recycling. But, unfortunately, putting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good. While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), we have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.

Too many of these items will contaminate a batch of recycling. That means waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure. Contaminated loads could be sent to the landfill instead.

Your disposable coffee cup might seem like it can be recycled, but most single-use cups are lined with a fine film of polyethylene, which makes the cups liquid-proof but also difficult and expensive to reprocess (because the materials have to be separated). Most waste management facilities will treat the cups as trash.

If you’re putting these cups in with your recycling, they are likely contaminating the rest of the materials, said Jim Ace, a senior campaigner at Stand.earth, an environmental group. In an experiment this year, the group affixed electronic trackers inside Starbucks cups, put the cups in recycling bins in Denver, then traced them to a landfill.

“There’s no way a consumer would know if a cup was lined,” Mr. Ace said, so it’s best to throw it away. (You can also check if your local recycler has special equipment to handle coffee cups; some do, a Starbucks spokeswoman said. The New York City Department of Sanitation says it accepts “paper cups with non-paper lining.”)

The plastic lid might be recyclable in your area; check the number inside it against your local recycling guidelines.

Greasy pizza boxes

Pizza boxes are among the most common offenders when it comes to contamination, waste managers say. The problem is that oil often seeps into the cardboard. The oil cannot be separated from the fiber, making that material less valuable, and less marketable, to buyers.

But that’s not to say you can never recycle a pizza box, said Marjorie Griek, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, which promotes recycling in the United States. “If you’ve got a few crumbs in there, that’s not an issue,” she said.

Pizza boxes with “small amounts of grease” are O.K. to recycle in New York City, a sanitation department spokeswoman said. If the grease seeps through the cardboard, the box should be put in a composting bin or thrown out, she said.

Remember, there are also two sides to a pizza box. If there’s a side that’s not oily, tear that off and recycle it.

Read the full and original article at The New York Times

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