CLEVELAND, Ohio — Do you ever catch yourself wondering if something is recyclable, and then throw it in the bin anyway thinking the recycling plant employees will decide for you?
“Wish cycling is when you take maybe the plastic cup in your hand and you say, well, it has the recycling number on it, I think it might be recyclable. I'm going to throw it in my bin and somebody else will figure it out for me at the plant. When in doubt, throw it out,” said Carin Miller, education specialist at Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.
Well, it turns out that’s doing more harm than good. With thousands of tons of recyclables coming to recycling facilities each year, the employees nor the machinery have the capability to sort through all the contaminants—costing the facility time and money.
“The first line of defense is people on these lines where these belts are going really fast and they're trying desperately to pick out the contamination if they can, if they can get to it. So, it makes their job much harder,” said Doreen Schreiber, business recycling specialist at Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.
The sorting happens at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). There is no cleaning that happens there, which is why it’s so important to wash out your containers before recycling them.
There are five categories of items that are recyclable curbside. Shreiber said don’t focus on what isn't recyclable, focus on what is.
“Cans, cartons, plastic bottles and jugs, you know, glass bottles, food grade, glass bottles, and jars and, you know, cardboard and paper, that's it folks. Please don't look at the recycling symbol because it might be recyclable in another, not city, but another state,” said Shreiber.
Miller hosts presentations each month on how to recycle right and says there are common contaminants that can mess up the entire process.
“Plastic bags are a bad contaminant. Garden hoses, ropes, clothing, those items get tangled in the equipment at the sorting facility. The other item that they get a lot of is scrap metal. That is not a recyclable curbside. Sometimes the machines have to be shut down and somebody has to go and cut those tangled materials out and that slows down their process. That actually ends up costing them money, which ultimately ends up passed on to the cities that are paying for the service or the recyclables to be sorted,” said Miller.
And for coffee lovers—those famous K-cups? Also a contaminant in Ohio.
“Your K-cups are not going to be recyclable curbside, unless maybe you're in New York, because it takes a different, it takes a certain type of machinery to recycle certain items,” said Shreiber.
Just how clean do the recyclables need to be?
“We need them to be clean of any kind of food residues. So, if you've got your Corona beer bottle with a lime in it, sorry, you know, it's, it's gotta go in the trash. I always tell people, just put a couple drops of soap in your salad dressing bottles, and hot water, shake it up, rinse it out. It doesn't have to be clean enough for you to eat off of it, but you want that food residue out of it,” said Miller.
These experts said if a load comes in dirtied with food waste, it risks being rejected and sent to a landfill — and with Earth’s finite number of resources, they emphasize the importance of not just recycling, but recycling right.
“This is an opportunity to learn something new and learn how to do it properly going forward,” said Miller.
If you have any questions on how to recycle properly visit cuyahogarecycles.org.