Recycling 101: Getting Closer to Best Recycling Practices in the Valley
Plenty of products can be recycled in curbside bins, including plastics, aluminum and mixed papers. (Mandy Morgan Ditto/City Journals)
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For years, Salt Lake Valley residents have put out big, green bins to support recycling. However, there isn’t a year that goes by where those residents find themselves unsure of exactly what can be recycled.
Why Recycling is Important
There are plenty of financial and environmental reasons to recycle, but some area experts say there are things residents should know in order to encourage them to recycle more efficiently.
“A lot of our landfills will sustain for about 15 more years, and then we will either need to ship things out further or have transfer stations,” said Dawn Beagley, who is in charge of business development at ACE Recycling and Disposal. “Or, we can keep all of the recyclables out of landfills and they will last a lot longer.”
Besides the environmental impact on landfills, Beagley also believes recycling is simply the right thing to do.
“It’s too bad we don’t have kids or grandkids that could invent something using these recyclables to reuse a lot more stuff — that would be best,” Beagley said. “I hate to see when someone throws a plastic bottle in the trash. I teach my kids at home, ‘No, that’s recyclable.’ I just think it’s very important.”
Jennifer Meriwether, who handles business development for Rocky Mountain Recycling, sees recycling as real sustainability, “a good alternative, that also keeps people engaged and aware...that is very important and necessary.” Rocky Mountain Recycling helps with curbside service in the valley by having items picked up by ACE taken to RMR plant facility to go through for contamination and recycling.
Many Salt Lake Valley disposal companies want to use community engagement as a way to get people to see the good in recycling. Educating and getting kids involved is especially relevant and is something many parents are doing to show their kids how to make an impact in their community.
For Trena L., a Murray resident, recycling definitely feels like she’s engaged and part of a community effort, she said.
“There’s always that guilt that comes with it, if you don’t do it, and you feel like you should probably be doing it more,” she said. She puts her curbside bin out at least every other week. “But you are always aware of it and once you just do it, it becomes a habit.”
What NOT to Recycle
Unfortunately, no matter how much residents are engaged in recycling, there is still misinformation and confusion about what can or cannot be recycled. And though many things can be recycled, it depends on whether the city — and the disposal companies that service the city — has the resources to recycle every product, Beagley said.
“Because, right now, the recycling numbers are down the products are not worth as much as they use to be,” Beagley said. “And with the recyclers, we are taking items to them that they don’t want as much as they use to.”
Currently, plastic foam and any cardboard with wax film are items that recyclers don’t have any place for, and don’t want in recycling. It has also become cheaper for companies to make new plastic bags, rather than recycle and reuse them. When plastic bags are put into curbside recycling bins and taken to the lots where recycled goods are sorted, they are doing what recyclers and disposal companies call contaminating.
An entire load may be deemed unrecyclable due to this contamination, unless it is sorted out in time. Plastic bags also frequently clog the recycling machines and local trucks that pick up curbside garbage, Meriwether said. Currently Rocky Mountain Recycling is trying to do a “bag ban” so that plastic bags can only be taken back to grocery stores to be recycled or reused, she said.
Contamination is the biggest issue for recyclers. Food waste that is in or on recyclable products, as well as clothing and plastic bags are a few of the things that can also cause contamination, Beagley said.
“We want the recycling bins to be clean. Food waste is the worst. And with clothing, that is the wrong place to recycle it. There are other places for that,” like donation centers, she said.
The worst culprit of contamination in curbside bins is glass, since it can break and spread through an entire load of recycling. Glass is a great thing to recycle and reuse, and there are glass drop-offs throughout the valley for it. Most glasses can be recycled, but it is necessary for glass to be taken to specific drop-offs, so that it doesn’t affect other recyclables.
There are a few types of glass that cannot be recycled, and those include ceramic, mirrored glass and light bulbs, all of which have problematic contaminants to get out once a load of glass is melted together.
Pyrex products, such as pie plates, are also contaminants. The rule to live by with that type of glass is: “basically if you can put it in your oven, it can’t be recycled,” noted John Lair, president and CEO of Momentum Recycling, a glass recycling company in Utah and Colorado.
For a more comprehensive list of what cannot be recycled by ACE Disposal, which services in the Salt Lake Valley, go to: www.acedisposal.com/index.php/recycling-disposal-for-your-home/residential-recycling.
What to Recycle
Luckily, many items people use on a daily basis can be recycled.
“Glass is a low-hanging fruit: it’s easy material to identify, glass is always recyclable besides the few we listed and everyone can do it,” Lair said.
Glass can also be reused playing another part in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle cycle.
“Glass is 100 percent recyclable. You can make a new container with glass that you can’t do with other (materials),” Lair said. “If you are shopping based on your sustainability preferences, glass is your best packing choice. I really encourage people to embrace glass and close the loop and make sure to recycle glass locally.”
When it comes to plastics, papers and metals that can be recycled, there are many options and are not as limited as many may think.
“A lot of people, they think they can’t put a lot of things in the recycling bin, so they put it in the garbage…it’s actually a lot easier than people think,” Meriwether said. “People think they have to go through a big process, sorting them and all and they don’t necessarily have to do that.”
Below are household items that can be recycled:
- Paper: office, note
- Brochures, catalogues
- Wrapping paper
- Cardboard (flattened or cut)
- Paper egg cartons
- Plastic containers #1-7
- Washed out milk, juice, water jugs and bottles
- Washed out laundry jugs and bottles
- Aluminum cans
- Tin cans
- Clean aluminum foil
- Aluminum disposable pans and plates
For a more comprehensive list of recyclable items, visit: www.acedisposal.com/index.php/recycling-disposal-for-your-home/residential-recycling.
Lair sees recycling as important for the entire community, and not just for environmental concerns.
“It’s good for the local economy: it creates jobs, giving sustainable, long-term employment. Like ours, most are small businesses, which is very good for the community in many ways,” Lair said. “I would encourage people to get involved...and in the long run, help us conserve our limited, dwindling recycled materials. Whether it’s products or packaging, it doesn’t have to be dug from the earth; it extends longevity of natural resources, it’s the smart thing to do, and not just environmentally.”