Let us start by saying the most important thing we know about recycling is to reduce, first.
While recycling is a necessary part of waste-reduction, it is definitely NOT the answer to most of our waste. Recycling is resource-intensive and at the rate at which we are disposing of plastics, it’s sort of a fanciful scheme. With China no longer taking our trash, it has become more complicated in the U.S. for recyclers to profit from recyclable materials - especially plastic. Small plastics often fall through cracks in sorting machines and recycling codes on plastics don't always mean that something is actually accepted at your city's recycling facility.
However, since plastic is unavoidable in many situations, recycling can still help curb the manufacturing of virgin resources when done well.
EVERY CITY IS DIFFERENT
Your city or county should offer online resources to break down what's allowed in your bin. If they don't, or are unclear, call your waste management company/city. Every city is different so be sure you are following your towns guidelines to avoid contamination. Otherwise, you may just be letting your city throw away your “wish” recycling.
If you are in Nashville and are curious about what is accepted through our city, you’ll find specific info at the end of this blog, along with recent changes.
NEVER RECYCLE THESE IN YOUR CURBSIDE BIN UNLESS STATED OTHERWISE:
Recycling streams can easily become contaminated when consumers do not know how to recycle well. Nashville alone throws away 30-35% of what makes it to the recycling center. Contamination costs time, money, and resources. Here's what you should never recycle in majority of curbside pickup:
- Bags, Soft plastics- (Some cities accept these, not Nashville!) - Most cities cannot recycle bags or soft, flexible plastics. These often contaminate recycling batches or can ruin sorting machines. visit plasticfilmrecycling.org and TerraCycle.com (check out Terra Cycles free mail-in recycling programs. We send our Late July chip bags in!)
- Styrofoam (Search for drop-off sites near you)
- Compostable Plastics and Food.
- Dirty and soiled containers- Heavily soiled containers, bottles, or paper can contaminate an entire stream of recycling which can force hundreds of pounds of recyclables back to a landfill.
- Food-soiled papers like pizza boxes or paper to-go containers- Compost these instead.
- Receipts- Thermal paper is most often coated with BPA (a plastic chemical). We like to avoid accepting them all-together. WHO organization recommends that you don't even let children handle receipts...sooo...
- Waxed Paper is not recyclable. Some can be composted in composting facilities if they tear easily like paper, check with your local compost facility.
- Tissue paper, toilet paper, napkins and paper towels are not recyclable, Throw these in your compost and switch to reusable rags or recycled paper.
- To-go "paper" cups - Odds are you'll have to throw a paper cup away due to its plastic lining. Compost these if they are marked compostable at compost facilities. We avoid these by always keeping an extra jar handy for random coffee shop trips or parties.
THE MOST COMMON RECYCLABLE MATERIALS:
What we've listed below is simply a guide to what is easiest to recycle with most facilities. This doesn't mean your city will offer pickup for all of these materials. However, you can usually find a private hauler or a drop-off location near you.
Clean, Non-Greasy Paper
Recycling one ton of paper can save 7,000 gallons of water. Recycle cardboard, papers, magazine, etc. Check with your local recycling center to find out what they accept. Just remember, no receipts, waxed paper, or tissue paper. (shredded paper is usually not recycled either)
One of the best materials to recycle is Aluminum. We can save 90-95% of the energy necessary to make aluminum from scratch by recycling this material over and over and it never loses it's quality!
Glass is infinitely recyclable. (Not accepted in Nashville bins but accepted at recycling drop-off sites or you can find a private pickup service here)
Plastic Food and Beverage Tubs, Cartons and Bottles
There are 7 different types of plastics. You can usually find the code on the bottom of any container. 1, 2 and 5 are the easiest to recycle in most cities. However, these are usually ONLY sturdier containers such as food tubs, drink bottles, cosmetic (lotion, shampoo, conditioner) bottles, cleaning chemical bottles, etc.
The Truth about Plastics (bonus facts)
- A recent study found that less than 10% of the worlds plastics are recycled.
- The rate at which plastics are being produced will leave us with more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
- Many plastics can only be recycled a few times before they loose their stablity and are down-cycled to a landfill. If you have to buy plastic, stick with containers 1, 2 and 5 as they are easiest to recycle into items that last a long time, such as building materials. 2 and 5 are the most stable and are higher density plastics which are the least likely to leach chemicals into your food. Be sure to look for BPA-free.
- Just because a piece of plastic has a recycling code on it does not mean a facility can recycle it. This is a common misconception in the zero waste movement and I (Megan) have been guilty of falling for this. For example, in Nashville, small pieces of plastic, small containers, clamshell packaging, to-go containers and to-go cups, all get sent to the landfill after sorting.
- Plastics 3 (PVC), 6 (STYROFOAM), and 7 (MIXED PLASTICS OR PLANT BASED), are much more difficult to recycle and can leach toxins with long term use or when heated. You can imagine that these plastics are worse for the environment if they're worse for your health.
Alright Nashville, if you recycle through the city this quick section is for you:
CURBSIDE PICK-UP ACCEPTED MATERIALS - Below are the items accepted for mixed recycling in curbside bins. If it does not look like any item below, it cannot be recycled through city pickup or mixed recycling drop-off. Do not place recycling in plastic bags as it clogs and damages their sorting machine.
- Aluminum cans (no aluminum foil or aluminum trays)
- Food and beverage cartons (keep the caps on)
- Clean, non-greasy paper, cardboard, mail, broken down boxes (no books, no photo paper or sticker backing)
- Plastic jugs, bottles, dairy-like food tubs (no clamshell packaging, to-go containers, trays or to-go cups)
Again, if it doesn't look like these, then it is not accepted in Nashville recycling. To list items not accepted would take way too long. If you skipped to this section, go back to the beginning of this blog to see the things that contaminate recycling most frequently in Nashville.
OTHER ACCEPTED MATERIALS FOR DROP-OFF: If you are dropping off at one of Nashvilles recycling drop-off sites, these same rules apply for plastics, paper and aluminum (mixed recycling). However, you can also drop-off these things below to be recycled:
- Glass bottles or jars - glass bottles and jars can be taken to one of the recycling drop-off locations or Nashvilles convenience centers operated by Metro Public Works. You can also separately pay for curbside glass collection like those on this list. Place aluminum lids inside another metal container with mixed recycling, these cannot be recycled with glass.
- Compost- You can drop your compost off at these residential convenience drop-off locations. For a list of accepted materials click here. You can also sign-up for a residential pick-up service through Compost Nashville.
- Electronics- List of accepted recyclable electronics here
For more information on Nashville Recycling, please visit: Nashville.gov
There are other local resources available for recycling if you would like to recycle more of what you use everyday. Companies like Earth Savers (this is who we use!) and Green Village Recycling can accept a lot more of your recycling than the city can since they hand sort everything.
Packing Styrofoam can be dropped off at EFP Corp in Lavergne. Packing styrofoam only. They don't accept food containers. Some Publix locations will accept these. Check with your local store.
Plastic Film, Plastic bags, cereal bags, bread bags, toilet paper wrappers, plastic mailers with recycle symbol #4, etc. can be taken to drop off bins at stores like Target and Kroger. Find a list here: www.plasticfilmrecycling.org
Terra Cycle offers mail-in programs for almost any type of household waste item you can think of. They have some free programs like Late July (our favorite chip brand!), Toms, Tide, and many others. You simply sign up for an account and choose what programs you'd like to be a part of. They will mail you an envelope or shipping label so you can recycle your wrappers and packaging through the mail. Beyond these free programs, you can purchase boxes in various sizes that allow you to recycle almost anything through their recycling partners. The catch is that you have to pay. This is how we recycle difficult to recycle items at our brick and mortar store.
Cosmetic packaging Our brick and mortar store accepts all empty small cosmetic plastic packaging for recycling through Terra Cycle.
We hope this helps you save resources for what you cannot reduce and to help you avoid contamination during the recycling process.
Recycling can be complicated and overwhelming but if you spend a little time making sure its done correctly you can prevent a lot of valuable resources from entering landfills where they'll stay forever. If you have other questions or suggestions, let us know!