If our Recycling On the Go team had a dime for every time an event attendee asked this question, we wouldn’t need to hold fundraisers!
The fact is, there are many misconceptions and lots of misinformation floating out in the public about current recycling technology. Each region of the country has its own system, but in St. Louis we have a very strong infrastructure to handle a variety of recycled materials. Here are a few examples of the items in question – why isn’t this recyclable?
1. Styrofoam – Are you kidding? Styrofoam used for food has NEVER been recyclable. In fact, it is regarded as a “hazardous material” because it is a petroleum-based plastic made with styrene. Yes, you are being served hot or cold food on a dangerous chemical, unless your favorite restaurant has banned its use. Hint, hint.
2. Paper drinking cups and paper plates – They’re made out of paper, aren’t they? Yes they are, but also a wax coating that keeps liquid from seeping through, which is not recyclable. That’s why. Bummer!
3. Plastic utensils, plates, and straws – These are plastic, so they must be recyclable, right? Sorry, they are not. Plastic utensils and plates are made of polystyrene, a non-recyclable material that is in the Styrofoam family. Refer to item #1 of this list. Plus, the small stuff falls through the cracks of the sorting machines.
4. Plastic table coverings – This is another plastic Jekyll and Hyde. For most recycling facilities, plastic table coverings are a nightmare. They jam up the facility’s sorting machinery to no end, so you’re better off using cloth coverings or re-using the plastic ones at another party (or see #3 below).
5. Napkins and paper towels – Oops! Neither of these is recyclable, but brown fiber napkins and towels are compostable. White bleached items and those with color printing on them aren’t even compostable—another landfill item.
Now, let’s look at the other side of the proverbial recycling coin and list those items that ARE recyclable, and the most surprising to people:
1. Pizza boxes – Well, yeah! Cardboard is recyclable, thus pizza boxes land in this category! A little grease does not affect its recycle-ability.
2. Hard pack cigarette boxes – If the foil and cellophane are removed, all that’s left is cardboard.
3. Plastic bags – This one is a little different because it does NOT belong in the normal single-stream recycling bin. However, grocery stores have special plastic bag recycling bins that capture these recyclable items and it is worth the effort on our part to deposit them there. And all sorts of plastic bags can be added to the mix – bread bags, zipper-type bags, newspaper bags, etc. (This is also where you can put the plastic table coverings from #4 above.)
4. Aerosol cans – Empty aerosol cans are definitely recyclable and more and more of them have the message “Please recycle” printed right on them.
5. SOLO plastic cups #6 – New technology at recycling facilities in most areas now have the capability to recycle SOLO cups! That said, there is still a very small market for recycled #6 plastic. There are few usable things that can be made from this material. It is still best to choose #1 or #5 cups or reusable containers.
6. Bottle caps and jar lids – Plastic or metal caps/lids on glass or plastic bottles/jars – mixing the materials doesn’t matter. IF you put them back on the bottles or jars, they will usually make it through the sorting process.
Still have questions about what is recyclable or not? No problem, we’ve got you on this! Check out this diagram which explains everything!