Recycling, like fashion, is subject to a set of rules based on both functionality and appearance. Also like fashion, the rules change with time, and keeping up can be exhausting. I have never been truly committed to knowing or following the rules of fashion. Sometimes I am generally aware of them; sometimes I accidentally fall neatly within them—but rarely do I purposefully follow them. On the flip side, I do know many of the rules of recycling and do my best to follow them. Unlike bad fashion, which does no real harm and can be downright entertaining, bad recycling can contaminate a whole batch of otherwise good stuff. Below are a few tips on today’s recycling rules.
Black Is Not The New Black
Black is a fashion staple. From “black tie” and little black dress to the black leather jacket you rocked in high school, black attire has always been the go-to. In recycling, however, things get tricky. Black plastic—yep, I do mean the bottom half of all the to-go containers you have been accruing—is not recyclable in Massachusetts. The plastic itself is completely recyclable, but the sorting equipment at the materials recovery facilities cannot properly recognize and sort it. Those takeout containers can, however, generally be reused or repurposed before they are thrown away (check current recommendations on reuse). If you want to chat up your favorite restauranteur about other packaging, you can learn about some options in the Compostable Food Serviceware Buying Guide put together by CARE for the Cape and islands in collaboration with the Wellfleet Recycling Committee and Woods Hole Sea Grant at www.careforthecapeandislands.org/plastic-waste-reduction.
Pizza Boxes Are Now In!
I remember learning the rule about white being off-limits between Labor Day and Memorial Day as a kid in Minnesota and wondering if it was a safety thing...”Oh! So sorry about running over your foot with my SkiDo. I didn’t see you there, what with that white snowmobile suit and all.” When it turned out safety wasn’t the issue, other explanations seemed pretty silly. Thankfully, all colors are now welcome all year round...and pizza boxes are welcome in your blue bin. Yep, greasy pizza boxes. With all the greasy parts and everything. In fact, the recycling coordinator of Barnstable County explained the new high-tech method of evaluating which parts of the pizza box can go in the recycling bin (you should definitely try this at home): 1. Turn the open box upside down; 2. Whatever falls out is trash; 3. Whatever sticks is recycling. Yep, even that cheese that you sorta want to peel off and eat but are trying to resist.
The rest of your recycling still needs to be clean, though, so please wash or rinse out containers before they go in the bin.
Like holey socks with sandals, some things are just never okay.
The holey sock of recycling is the plastic bag. It just isn’t okay in the bin—ever. It shouldn’t be in your bin to contain separated recycling; it shouldn’t be there because it is plastic and you wish it was recyclable; and it shouldn’t be there because you accidentally dropped it in and don’t want to fish it back out. Like an unfortunate belt, plastic bags and other “tanglers” (cords, wire) just make a mess of the whole recycling ensemble. Tanglers get tangled up in the single-stream sorting equipment, shutting down the process. The haulers, drivers and sorting staff don’t have time to pull out or empty plastic bags. As a result, a single plastic bag might turn an otherwise fabulous bin of recycling into trash. Please just do what I do and keep used bags in a giant wad under your kitchen sink until you can’t take it anymore. Then take them to a local grocery store where plastic bags are collected. Better yet, avoid them entirely. Most stores are allowing reusable bags again, especially if you load them yourself.
Less IS More
As with so many things in fashion (and life), less is more in recycling. Although recycling is good, it is not the best option. The best option is to avoid generating the waste in the first place. The recent vote at Town Meeting to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles smaller than one gallon is a step in that direction. Reusable water bottles reduce both the production and disposal of plastic, and using them around town has been made even easier thanks to the refill stations installed by the Falmouth Water Stewards.
The fashion police aren’t real. The recycling police might be, though. Although they aren’t actually the police, the folks at Republic Services who collect our town recycling do have the ability to reject a bin that threatens to contaminate the load. They will leave the bin full and attach a sticky note that lets you know what the concern was. You can correct the problem and return the bin to the curb for the next pickup. We are hoping to see more of this point-of-service education as we, the Town of Falmouth, strive to improve the quality of our recycling. Recycling is valued based on its quality. If we all work hard to keep contaminants out of our bins, our recycling will be more likely to be recycled, have more value and ultimately cost us less. The recycling markets are struggling right now, and we all have the ability to support better recycling.
For more information and detail on recycling properly, please see www.careforthecapeandislands.org/plastic-waste-reduction and www.recyclesmartma.org.
If you have questions, please reach out to a member of your Solid Waste Advisory Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to help.