A recycling refresher: What, where and howSep 11, 2023 03:03PM ● By Ella Joy Olsen
The pizza box is empty, but gooey cheese bits stick to the corners. Susan Reese, a Murray resident, heads for her blue recycle bin because, as she claims, “Cardboard is recyclable.”
But is it?
“We usually recommend people rip off the top of the pizza box to recycle, and put the greasy bottom in the trash,” McKenna Tupa’i, the sustainability coordinator for Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling, said on the City Cast podcast. “Because paper items soaked in food waste can’t be recycled.”
But what if you don’t? Does one cheesy pizza box ruin a whole blue bin’s worth of recycling?
It does not. “This is a common myth,” continued Tupa’i. “Only the items that have directly touched the food waste, and typically only paper products that absorb, would have to be trashed.”
Plastic containers with a little food left in them, as long as it’s not drippy, will be rinsed and recycled. And don’t bother soaking off those labels, they’re fine.
So what can you recycle?
Plastic: things like detergent tubs, soda bottles, plastic Starbucks cups, and those plastic berry/greens containers. No plastic bags or liners of any sort because they gum up the machine.
Household metals: soda cans, empty aerosol and tin cans.
Paper: cardboard, junk mail, newspaper, cereal and other boxes. No shredded paper because it gums up the machine. Unfortunately, no paper with waxy coating (like almond milk containers) or paper envelopes lined with plastic.
Hard to recycle items: some things are harder to recycle than others. Some items, like batteries and remote controls, contain hazardous materials that require special handling. But there are options. Here’s an example or two: mattresses at Spring Back Utah; electronics at Best Buy; plastic bags and packaging at WinCo, Walmart and Smith’s.
You can find a handy and comprehensive list at wasatchfrontwaste.org/about/faqs or slco.org/recycle/hard-to-recycle-items/.
Glass: glass isn’t lumped in with blue bin recycling items for the safety of the handlers, however it’s infinitely recyclable, so you should try to recycle it. Most Salt Lake Valley residents can sign up for a glass recycling container (start-up cost of $45 and additional $8/month fee), or take glass bottles to one of many locations valley wide. For a map, see utah.momentumrecycling.com/recycling-services-homes/#dropoff.
What happens to the materials in the blue bin once they leave your home?
The specific recycler who processes your household items depends on your address, but your local MRF (Material Recovery Facility), collects, sorts and bales like-recyclable items. Bales of aluminum or plastic or paper are sold and transferred to one of many processing sites across North America. From there the materials are turned into pellets and resold to be remolded into fresh aluminum, glass, steel, paper or plastic consumer items.
Sometimes it seems like we only recycle to make ourselves feel better about our consumption, so are there actual benefits to recycling?
Of course employing reusable items, like ceramic plates from your cupboard or cloth napkins is the best, but recycling reduces the landfill and it also creates jobs. Most importantly it saves energy and natural resources, as the virgin materials do not have to be mined for manufacturing in the first place. “If you recycle just one glass bottle it saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours, power a computer for 30 minutes, or a television for 20 minutes,” Tupa’i said. “So it’s worth it.” λ