Recycling has been a part of mainstream knowledge since the 1970s, and most people are familiar with the principles behind the program. While imperfect, recycling programs worldwide go a long way in reducing raw materials energy consumption and are still very much an important part of our waste diversion efforts. While composting and overall consumption reduction efforts should come first, knowing how to maximize your recycling efficiency is also an integral piece of the climate puzzle. By reducing the contamination of our recycling plants, we can ensure that the energy used in the recycling process is being spent in the most productive way possible.
Let's start with what can be recycled.
Aluminum, tin, steel. Ensure there is little to no food residue (Hennepin County suggests 95% clean as a general rule of thumb). Avoid tossing pressurized cylinders, electronics, and scrap metals. Minneapolis has solid waste programming in place for the bigger, bulkier items you may need to get rid of, such as the aforemention electronics and scrap metals. Find more information here.
Cartons. Think milk cartons, juice boxes, and wine cartons. Toss the lids before recycling. If they’re dirty, give them a thorough rinse before tossing them in the bin.
Glass. Most glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but be more cautious with glass that does not contain a product upon purchase; many of these contain strengthening additives that can interfere with the recycling process. Instead of throwing these out at all, try out a new craft or two (ideas here) to reuse this non-recyclable glassware.
Plastics. Minneapolis accepts plastics #1-#5. Minneapolis is unique in that we have industrial composting facilities that can accommodate #7 plastics. However, #6 plastics still belong in the trash. Placing them in the recycling is counter-productive, as more energy will be wasted in the process of sorting them out than by simply throwing them away. Try to cut down on this waste by reducing your consumption of #6 plastics and by reusing or re-purposing them several times before finally tossing them.
Cardboard cans. These come from a wide variety of products, including powdered drink mixes, refrigerated dough, and even baby formula. Do not recycle grease or wax containers.
For a more comprehensive list of what can and cannot be recycled in Minneapolis, be sure to read this page with lots of helpful recycling information published by the city.
Another strategy to increase your recycling efficiency is to avoid “wishcycling,” or putting things in the recycling bin without checking recyclability in the hopes that it will be recyclable. This can contribute to inefficient recycling processes, which can be more energy intensive in the long run than it would have been to toss it in the garbage in the first place. Unfortunately, the current rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.” This wasteful adage can be countered, however, by the reduction and reuse of household waste products.
Remember that recycling programs vary from city to city. In Minneapolis, we are incredibly lucky to have curbside, one-sort recycling, but that is not the case in all cities across America. Remember to check for local recycling and organics recycling rules when traveling or visiting family. Following the city or county rules goes a long way in increasing recycling efficiency. If you don’t feel comfortable throwing things out that you could otherwise recycle (or compost!) at home, consider bringing a paper bag along to bring them home with you.