Eco Go Go

Breaking Down Recycling

September 02, 2020 Elyse Kardos Season 1 Episode 2
Eco Go Go
Breaking Down Recycling
Chapters
Eco Go Go
Breaking Down Recycling
Sep 02, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Elyse Kardos

Recycling is old news for many of us, but do you know what happens when you mix grocery bags with curbside recycling? Tune in to find out!

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Music by Richie Colosimo - @parmageddon_
Artwork by Bronson Lockwood - @bronson.lockwood

Show Notes Transcript

Recycling is old news for many of us, but do you know what happens when you mix grocery bags with curbside recycling? Tune in to find out!

Follow Eco Go Go on social media
Facebook
Instagram

Check out the temporary linktr.ee for sources and citations

Music by Richie Colosimo - @parmageddon_
Artwork by Bronson Lockwood - @bronson.lockwood

Elyse (0:34):
Hi everyone! Welcome back to the second episode of Eco Go Go, where we make sustainability more accessible to individuals. I'm your host Elyse Kardos. I just wanted to say, big thanks to everyone who listened, shared, and supported this podcast in the last week. I’m still working to get Eco Go Go on all major podcast apps and easily found with a search so thank you so much for being so patient and supportive. I started this podcast because I found myself diving down so many rabbit holes just to make greener choices and this was so frustrating. As a scientist and a trainer I couldn't help but find a way to tell more people about the unknown. So I'm not kidding when I say how giddy I am that you're all interested in being green and learning new things. Again, big thanks.

Elyse (1:30):
This week's episode is Breaking Down Recycling. This is a big one and I know it seems silly that it's the second episode and I'm talking about recycling but I think it's one of the most important things to talk about. You know, recently a lot of the local recycling programs in the area stopped accepting a lot of different things. In my parents’ neighborhood they stopped accepting any plastics that are greater than a number two and all glass. They sent out a ton of flyers and they were extremely helpful leading up to it but I couldn't stop thinking about all the times I moved into a new place or apartment and I had no idea what the recycling program was like. There was no readily available information in my welcome packets or anything. So buckle up! Like I said on social media, this is scary episode because the majority of us are going to find that we have not been recycling correctly. I know I did, personally.

Elyse (2:36):
We have two terms to cover this week. The CO2e, which is from last week, is the carbon dioxide equivalent or the standard unit of greenhouse gas measurement on the basis of their global warming potential. This is measured in parts per million per volume. The second term we will discuss this week is contaminants. This is a polluting or poisonous substance that makes something impure and in the case of recycling this is anything that's not accepted in the recycling program. So whether it is actually harmful to humans to touch or not it's a contaminant.

Elyse (3:19):
Getting into some recycling facts. Recycling saves energy. This is a fact. This means less raw material is harvested for the production of other materials that you use. This is a crazy fact, in a study that was done by the British Science Association, they found that Millennials are significantly less likely to recycle than older generations. Mainly because they see it as too time-consuming. Wow! Of the 2,000 participants that were tested, not a single one was able to score 100 on the recycling quiz and only three out of every ten people actually took the time to look up whether or not something could be recycled before impulsively disposing or recycling of the waste. And this is kind of scary in a culture where smartphones never leave our sides. I think having individual insight into how much of an impact all or some of our activities have on the environment is seriously lacking and this causes many people to ignore the overall impact their lifestyle has on the environment, and not on purpose! We were taught to listen and look at hard numbers, comparisons, and assessments to promote better activities and improvements.

Elyse (4:46):
So I found a really cool tool, it’s available on the EPA’s website and it’s really fun to play around with. There aren't tons of options to choose from but plenty to get the point across. It's called the iWARM tool and that stands for the Individual Waste Reduction Model this lets you see how much of an impact your household recycling can have. So just to put into perspective, recycling 50 plastic water bottles amounts to 488.8 hours of energy for a 60 watt light bulb. That same 50 plastic water bottles could also power 4.2 hours of an air conditioner. This is a window unit but still significant. Recycling 50 aluminum cans results in 259.4 hours of a charging a laptop, that's a lot. And that same 50 aluminum cans can also amount to 8.6 hours of an air conditioner. Like I said lots of fun little things that you can play around with. You can see how if you drink one can of pop, and I'm sorry I'm from Pittsburgh, one can of pop a day could really add up how much you're saving the environment if you're recycling this.

Elyse (6:09):
Let's get into the process. I'm sure most of us have a really good idea of the process of recycling but do you know all about what happens when there are contaminants present? So unfortunately we do live in a society where money takes precedence over value. The numbered recycling symbols can be helpful to know about what the material is made of but it doesn't dictate what's recyclable in your area. In the example of local programs not recycling glass or plastics above a two, it's because it's not profitable to recycle those things. And this is unfortunate but this is where we live in right now. When you recycle the wrong items, it actually can cause issues at the facility. Improperly recycled items cost a lot of extra time, money, and it also creates a hazardous work environment for the people working in the recycling facility. Some of the most common contaminants found in recycling centers are plastic bags, brightly colored or metallic wrapping paper, batteries, diapers - ew that’s gross but diapers, electrical cords, food waste, the wrong plastics, hazardous waste like syringes and medicine, and greasy pizza boxes. Contaminants in the recycling can cause a whole mess of issues. Plastic bags and cords can easily get stuck in and jam the machinery and this requires workers to actually take apart and repair the machine. Bio-hazardous waste like syringes and baby diapers, you know that's obvious how it can be harmful to somebody. Don't forget somebody has to physically sift through all of this stuff. And if too much of the recycling is composed of contaminants, get this, the entire load is sent to the landfill. The whole thing! You could be on your best behavior but the other people in your neighborhood might contaminate your recycling load. This is why knowledge, consistency, and good habits are so important to recycling. We all have room for some errors here with recycling but we don't have room for only errors all the time.

Elyse (8:38):
So of the most common recycling mistakes, let's touch on that a bit. These are, these recyclables tend to be the biggest variability from facility to facility. So looking at things like pizza boxes may not be accepted in your recycling program. Many accept pizza boxes that are not heavily soiled with grease or food scraps so that requires you to actually rip off the portion that is soiled with grease. They cannot be recycled once grease has soaked the cardboard. Some recycling programs don't accept any pizza boxes. Another big recycling mistake - lids. What about lids? Your program actually may not recycle lids from containers. Many places require that the lid be screwed onto the same container before being recycled. Some require the lids to be removed from the container and in my instance your program may not accept any lids at all below a certain size. While you might need to keep your lid on what do you do with those special pumps and those fancy spray bottle things? It's highly likely that that is not recyclable. They tend to have a lot of metals or little plastic bits that aren't recyclable anywhere. Another common mistake is heavily soiled containers and jars. While nothing needs to be sparkling clean you do need to remove all of the food remnants or product from the container before disposing of it or recycling it rather. Disposable beverage containers - so I'm talking about the kind that you typically take to like a fountain to fill up and there's a lid and a straw. These are not recyclable in most programs. Plastic bags of any sorts, they usually have a nice big recycling sign on them but there's also a nice big store drop-off written in the same location. So this is pretty important, you know, just because there is a recycling symbol without an X through it does not mean it's safe for curbside recycling. Putting recyclables in plastic bags also may be prohibited in your curbside recycling program. Your program may require the use of a special plastic bag for excess recycling that doesn't fit in the bin. So check your area because you might be surprised. Another thing is the tissue box. Leaving that plastic part may make it not recyclable in your area. Tissue boxes may not even be accepted in your location. For example, in my area, it is encouraged to tear the plastic part off but it's not required.


Elyse (11:27):
And let's pause for a quick drink break

Elyse (11:45):
Thank you so much and we're back. So let's get to the good stuff, the best part. What can you do? I know I've already mentioned some things and you’re already able to draw some conclusions on things you should or should not be recycling. But what are some direct actions that you can be taking to be a little better? I'm sure you're all familiar with the saying reduce reuse recycle. Try switching your mentality to reduce reuse then recycle. 

Elyse (12:15):
The most important thing that you can be doing especially is checking out your local municipality’s recycling program. This is how you’re best going to find out what you should and shouldn't be recycling in your location. They usually also have some really cool PDFs that you can print out and hang up around your home. You know, even if you live alone these kinds of resources are really important to forming good recycling habits. Studies show that repetition improves recycling habits significantly.

Elyse (12:46):
When it comes to hazardous waste and other contaminants like batteries, oils, lids or otherwise, collect them and look up disposal in your area. Local recycling may actually accept waste by scheduling a pickup or drop-off and if you aren't finding a local recycling center for your waste or your contaminant then there are some other centers that can accept your type of contaminant.You can check out search.earth911.com for some more general recycling programs around you and terracycle.com for unique and company-sponsored recycling programs. This is where I found certain things like Bic will accept products instead of you disposing of them. I also found a local artist who uses post-consumer waste in her art. There's a lot of creative ways and routes that you can safely recycle the contaminants in your area.

Elyse (13:51)
In the case of bottle caps or lids that aren't recyclable nearby or other items that aren't recyclable nearby and aren't directly hazardous to the environment. You can collect these in a bag before disposing of it in the trash bin. Lids are not biodegradable, they take hundreds of years to break down and they travel really far distances. They easily fit through the little openings in your trash bags. So if you can collect all of these bottle caps or lids in a single bag tie up that bag and dispose of it in your larger trash bag, it's much less likely that these are going to escape from the landfills and make their way into the ocean. 


Elyse (14:35):
You can invest in some greener products if possible. Rechargeable batteries are great and the CO2e of recharging those batteries definitely is less than using disposable batteries completely. Buy a reusable coffee cup or Tupperware instead of using disposable coffee cups and food containers. Even compostable products like ecocups, things that can be composted and recycled quote-unquote, cannot be recycled in your local curbside recycling surprisingly. So these products are certainly great when you're having a large event instead of using disposable plateware but they do need to be compiled and sent to an industrial or commercial composting facility in order to break down properly. Reusable Ziplock bags is another great thing you can have around your house. I know I've been asked this before by other people that can't you reuse Ziploc bags already? Technically you're not supposed to and the Ziplock bags are likely to break down with normal washing and sanitizing. Buying reusable sandwich bags, these are intended specifically for this purpose and can withstand normal heat and sanitization. Reusable napkins is something we love around my home it's a really great way to cut down your paper towel and napkin use.

Elyse (16:05):
Whenever possible buy from companies that are very transparently carbon-neutral or offer sustainable alternatives and packaging. You can go another step further and encourage your own company or business that you work for to participate in programs like the WasteWise program as partner or endorser. This may be a little less relevant during covid-19 with everyone out of the office, but if you have a usable office that people are working from this could make a huge impact.

Elyse (16:36):
Buy in bulk! When you're buying things in larger quantities not only is it cheaper but you're producing less overall waste both in transporting and the container that you’re disposing of. Find some creative uses for your waste. This is something I would like to cover in some future episodes and there's so many things that you can do with your waste and non-recyclable materials.

Elyse (17:01):
And if you know if you don't have access to recycling because this is actually quite common in the United States. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania about an hour outside of a major city and we didn't have a single recycling program nearby, we had to drive to the city if we wanted to recycle. So it's it's definitely something that's still common right now so if you're in this boat you can take quite a few of the suggestions above and you can also find your nearest recycling facility, collect youre recyclables and make a trip to the recycling facility once a month, or you know time permitting, the travel distance will be offset by all of the CO2e that you're preventing from recycling because more recyclables equals less raw materials needed for manufacturing which then equals a less overall carbon footprint. And this goes for recycling items that are not accepted in your area either. You can collect these all and dispose of them either at a recycling facility or in bulk safely in your trash.

Elyse (18:11):
And by far I think another one of the most important things to take from this podcast, to take from this episode. When in doubt throw it out. This is so much better I can't stress enough. If you if you're in a pinch in a rush you don't have time to look up whether this is recyclable or not just throw it away. I think a lot of this episode is really to emphasize the harm that excess improper recycling can cause. I think that’s the main theme of this episode is if you are unsure it's better off to throw it out then contaminate an entire load of recyclables.

Elyse (18:53):
So before we wrap up let's talk about the weekly Eco activity. This week I found a nice container, a nice big old container to begin disposing of my hot cooking grease and oil in because, guess what, it doesn't belong down my drain. Hint hint for next week I know one of my listeners suggested this topic.

Elyse (19:16):
So before we all go, I wanted to let you know I'm working on a website so all of the episodes, show notes, and sources will be available to you and one location. Please stay tuned while I work on rolling that out to you all. In the meantime, I'll be posting sources and citations on the Eco Go Go Linktr.ee for your reference. I'll provide that link in the episode description of this episode right here. Another big thanks to Richie for all the show tunes you’re hearing and Bronson for all the artwork. Thanks again for joining me and have a green week!