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Can you recycle K-Cups? Envelopes? Pizza boxes with just a little grease?


The rules have changed on recycling, as the material stream must be purer than ever. Here are do’s and dont’s for the most common household items.


Friday night pizza dinner is over, and you’re hovering over your recycling bin, staring into the abyss.


It’s just a tiny spot of grease in one corner of the delivery box, right? That couldn’t possibly be a problem?


Maybe you’re buzzing from your morning Keurig cup, holding the spent plastic pod in your hand as you eye the bin.


Could you? Should you?


Robert Jones and Judy Archibald, the district manager and public affairs director for Waste Management in Bucks County, respectively, say these kind of decisions are key in the efforts to reduce waste and improve recycling.


“The biggest challenge (for Waste Management) is probably the recycling market, and how the recyclables are being delivered to us from the community,” Jones said.


Jones said a recent spate of headlines about a recycling crisis in America is true. Countries that historically took the materials, primarily China, have upped their standards and now require 95% purity for shipments of recycling materials coming from the United States. That tracks back and places more emphasis at ensuring purity at Waste Management’s domestic recycling facilities, which they can’t do without residents making good, informed decisions about what goes in the bin. In worst case scenarios like a temporary situation in Philadelphia, recycling materials just get burned.


“There’s a lot of contamination,” Jones said.


Archibald says the company has created a website to help consumers know what they can and can’t recycle. This news organization will also be visiting the company’s recycling plant in Northeast Philadelphia in the near future to learn more. But for now, here are some common contamination culprits, and what to do about them.


Plastic bags


Archibald stresses that plastic bags, like the kind you get from any grocery or retail store, are the “biggest, biggest, biggest issue.”

“What happens with them, there are these gears along the way as (material) travels through the facility, and they get caught in there,” Archibald said. “That requires a shutdown and having to physically take those out.”


A big problem is that some plastic bags these days do have a recycling logo on them. That leads many residents to bag up other recyclables with them and toss them in the bin, or just recycle them loosely. But Jones said recycling logo or not, they’ll gum up the works and instead “need to go back to the store” where they came from.


Pizza boxes


That Friday night pizza box scenario? If you can see a grease stain, no matter the size, throw it out, Archibald said.


“It’s not dry, it’s not clean, so when that product comes to the recycling center, it contaminates the other recyclables,” Archibald said.

“You would think that that little spot wouldn’t keep it from being recycled, but it does in this day and age,” Jones added.


However, some pizza boxes come with a perforated edge that allow for the removal of the lid. As long as that is clean, it can be recycled separately.


Food containers


Similar to pizza boxes, other food containers also have to be thoroughly clean and dry. Think plastic berry containers, yogurt cups, or two primary culprits — mayonnaise and peanut butter jars. Like the pizza boxes, Jones said if there’s any remaining grime, it will have to be cleaned more thoroughly or thrown out.

“That’s where we’re at,” Jones said.


Plastic bottles


Plastic bottles are usually an easy one. Just make sure it’s washed out and dry, has the recycling logo on it, and chuck it in the recycling bin.


But there’s a common mistake: leaving on the caps. Archibald says all caps should be removed. Otherwise, the bottles hold air, don’t compact as well, and lead to inefficiencies in the recycling process.

“They’re hard to compress, so when it goes through the baler, it creates another issue,” Archibald said.


Check the caps separately for a recycling logo. If it has one, you can recycle it too. If it doesn’t, throw it out.


Cardboard, wet or dry


Archibald says cardboard has “great value” as a recyclable. But not when it’s wet.


“When you put the cardboard out there next to your recycling bin and it gets wet, that’s no good,” Archibald said.

But, the upside is if cardboard happens to get wet, you can still dry it out and try again.


“As long as when you put it at the curb it’s clean and dry,” Archibald said.


Envelopes and mail


According to the American Forest & Paper Association, residents have a lot of leeway when it comes to recycling what’s in your mailbox. Glossy advertisements, magazines, grocery store coupons, cardstock, and even paperboard can all be recycled. So can envelopes with plastic address windows, although “it doesn’t hurt” to remove the plastic piece, according to the association.

Items like staples, paperclips, and plastic windows are not a problem for “most paper recycling facilities” to remove during the pulping process, the association’s website states.

But look out for a few non-recyclable items. Anything with foil can’t be recycled, and sticker tabs to keep papers folded should be removed. Envelopes padded with bubblewrap would also need to be separated from the wrap before they’re recycled, and fake plastic credit cards can’t be recycled.




K-Cups, or Keurig “pods” as they’re formally known, have long been the bane of recycling advocates. However, the company’s website says they have started phasing in recyclable pods this year, and by 2020 all K-Cups across the United States and Canada will have the recycling logo.

But, the newer pods still have to be separated, with the foil removed, leftover grounds dumped, and filter and pod then recycled. The foil will need to be tossed, but the grounds can be composted.


Know your town


Archibald and Jones say it’s also important for residents to know the specifics of what their towns can recycle. Each town can vary, and if you’re going off old habits after moving to a new location, you could be making things worse by recycling the wrong items.


No funny stuff


Archibald says the company gets all manner of non-recyclables at their recycling facilities.


“We get garden hoses, we get bowling balls, we get toy wagons,” she said.


Exercise common sense, and always look for the recycling logo. With the new strict rules in place, an old adage is stronger than ever.


“When in doubt, throw it out,” Archibald said.


Original story from theintell

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