Recycling the Right Materials
“Reduce, reuse and recycle” can be traced back the 1970s. This was during a time when Americans were trying to affect change in air pollution, waste and water quality. In 1976, in response to the growing pressure, Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to increase both recycling and conservation efforts. It’s estimated that this is when the phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” was born.
With the American public being concerned with recycling for over 40 years, how is that we still have a hard time recycling properly? It seems like a never-ending list of what can and can’t be recycled, and this list seems to change over time. Through advances in technology, we have more items that can be recycled than ever before.
We expend a lot of resources and energy creating metal products. When we create something from metal, it has to go through several different steps before landing in its final shape. When we recycle products made from metal, we can help conserve some of that energy that went into creating it.
While the majority of Americans drink something from an aluminum can at least once a day (such as a soda or an energy drink), under half of those cans ever make it to recycling. Aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable and can be returned to the shelf as a new can in just 60 days.
There are almost 10,000 locations in the US alone that buy aluminum cans, meaning we can fund our soda habits just by recycling.
Aluminum Foil and Other Products
If we recycle aluminum cans, why don’t we recycle aluminum foil? Even though soda cans and other aluminum products are made from the same materials, Americans are more likely to recycle their aluminum cans than their aluminum foil.
We used to reuse aluminum foil to help contribute to war efforts during World war II. Now, with thousands of products being made from aluminum, we have to step up our recycling efforts. Food wraps, disposable cookware, even disposable burner bibs, are made from aluminum that can be recycled almost infinitely.
Recycling isn’t the only way we can conserve the environment, reuse is also an option. Foil may have food particles attached to it that makes it harder for recycling facilities to accept. Luckily, aluminum typically wipes off easily. We can reuse aluminum foil as much as we can before putting it into the recycling bin.
While we’re used to calling them tin cans, what our canned goods come in is actually made of steel. The only tin in these cans is the extremely thin coating on the inside that helps preserve freshness of our foods and prevent the can from rusting or corroding.
It’s estimated that Americans use 100 million steel cans every year, or 36.5 billion cans in a year. The recycle rate for steel cans in much better than aluminum, ringing in at a 71 percent recycle rate.
The cans you see on the shelf at your local grocery store contain at least 25 percent recycled steel– with many being made completely from recycled steel.
Hair sprays, spray paints, dry shampoos and more come in a can that’s made of either aluminum or steel. They have plastic spray tops and lids but may contain a small piece of metal that helps mix the contents when shaken.
While an aerosol can takes a little more effort to recycle, they should be added to the “do recycle” list as the metal they’re made of is fully recyclable and can be put back into new products. However, you should never recycle a can that’s not completely empty due to the possibility of an explosion.
To properly recycle an aerosol can, first use up all the material. Special bins are available at many recycling facilities for us to put our aerosol cans in so they can be properly taken care of.
Glass, like aluminum cans, is nearly 100 percent recyclable. Every bottle, jar, mug, vase and more that you put in your recycling bin can find new life as another glass product. Most glass bottles and jars produced in America contain at least 27 percent recycled glass. But, because of how the glass is produced, different types must be recycled in specific ways.
The majority of glass in America is clear glass, also known as flint glass. It’s made from a combination of silica, soda ash and limestone.
Brown glass is the second most produced glass in the country. Nickel, sulfur and carbon are added to the silica, soda ash and limestone to give the bottle its amber color. Brown glass can never not be brown, meaning brown bottles can only make brown bottles. Always recycle brown bottles with other brown bottles.
Green glass, or emerald glass, is made by adding iron, chromium or copper to the clear glass mixture. Just like with brown bottles, the green color can’t be removed.
Glass that Can’t Be Recycled
While glass is nearly 100 percent recyclable, there are some glass products that can’t be recycled due to additions in their production or needing a higher melting temperature. Items include:
- Heat-resistant glass, most common brand name is Pyrex
- Mirror and broken windows
- Glass with metal or plastic caps and lids
- Light bulbs, there’s a specific process to recycling a light bulb
- Cathode-ray tubes (CRT) found in older televisions and computer monitors
Plastic is in almost everything we use, it’s almost inescapable. Plastic takes between 500 to 1,000 years to degrade, meaning we should take extra care to reduce, reuse and recycle when it comes to plastic.
Plastics come in a vary of shapes, colors and formulations. Some chemical additions make plastic harder to recycle, so we should pay special attention to those. Water bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, plastic film, clean yogurt and fruit containers, plastic number 1 and plastic number 2 will all be accepted by your local recycling facility.
However, plastic bags and bottle camps are not accepted. Plastic bags have a tendency to get tangles in the machinery, damaging the equipment. To recycle your plastic bags, see if your local grocery store will accept your old plastic bags for reuse.
Plastic bottle caps, such as those on water bottles, are typically made from polypropylene or plastic number 5, neither of which can be recycled.
Electronics can’t be recycled with everything else, there’s a special process to recycle them. Like batteries, electronics are considered e-waste.
Computers and Computer Accessories
Computers should never be dumped in a landfill– no matter what. They contain a variety of recyclable materials such as plastic, metal and glass that can be fully recycled and older computer monitors contain CRT that requires a special recycling program.
Computer accessories can also be recycled. Keyboards, cables, mice, speakers, scanners, external drives and more can be taken by recycling facilities.
Photocopiers, printers, fax machines and more can all be recycled as well. Many recycling plants dismantle the equipment, reclaim the base materials and create new products with the raw material.
Electronics to Not Recycle
Certain electronics aren’t taken through e-waste programs and must be recycled through other programs. These can include:
- Smoke alarms
- Fire alarms
- Fridges and other large appliances
- Medical equipment that hasn’t been decontaminated
- Any unit soiled with sludge or other liquids
Batteries are known as e-waste and require very special handling when at the end of their lifecycle. E-waste can be filled with very toxic chemicals, such as mercury, that can leak into the environment if not handled properly.
Car batteries, also known as lead-acid batteries, are the most recycled product in America. In America alone, 99 percent of the 100 million car batteries replaced yearly are recycled. The electrolyte, especially sulfuric acid, can be neutralized, repurposed and converted into sodium sulfate for fertilizers and dyes. The plastic casing on the battery can also be ground up and reused.
Many retailers will recycle your used car batteries for you.
Laptops, cell phones, cameras and more are powered by rechargeable batteries. These batteries usually contain nickel-cadmium (nicad), lithium ion, or nickel-metal-hydride (NIMH), all of which can be toxic to the environment and must be specially recycled.
It’s better to reduce consumption of regular batteries by replacing them with rechargeable batteries. It reduces the number of batteries that need to be recycled. You can recycle batteries through any participating mail-in programs or by dropping them off at a local facility.
If you have batteries that were manufactured prior to 1997, they likely contain mercury and must be specially recycled.
When you recycle one ton of paper, you save seventeen trees. It may sound like a lot of paper, but, when you add up what we use in a day, it quickly adds up. Most paper can be recycled: phone books, newspapers, junk mail, business cards, cardboard and more. What can’t be recycled is napkins, due to collecting grease and food particles, tissues, because their paper fibers are too short to be recycled, toilet paper (though the role is still good to be recycled!), waxed paper and paper towels.
There are a few materials you should be aware of that you can’t recycle. These include:
- Shredded paper
- Broken glass
- Plastic grocery bags
- Colored construction paper
- Items covered in food (plastic cups, covered cardboard, paper towels, cups/plates)
As technology improves, the list of what can and can’t be recycled will change and (hopefully) grow over time.
Most people don’t think too much about the trash we throw away. But, while the majority doesn’t think too much about waste, some of us think about it a lot. At Patriot Sanitation Management, we’ve made it our business to figure out how to generate less, dispose of less and manage waste better. To learn more about out out services and how we can help you reduce, reuse and recycle, contact us today for your free commercial or residential waste removal estimate.