We often get phone calls and emails from concerned residents and facility operators: Can I recycle this? How do I educate the residents about that? Well, Scrappigail Van Buren has some of the answers in her latest column, Dear Scrappy!
I recycle my paper, plastics and aluminum cans every week at my recycling center. I try to reduce my use of plastics and refuse straws in my drink at the local diner. One week, I found out that my local recycling center wasn’t recycling yogurt cups (plastic #5s) anymore and putting them in the trash. I got really upset and started yelling at the operator there, but he won’t listen to me. What can I do to make sure my recyclables aren’t thrown away? Can I call the president of the United States about this? I am mad! ~Overheated in Ossipee
I understand your frustration at wanting to do the right thing and recycle as much as you can. You also mention trying to refuse unnecessary plastic and reducing how much you use. They are some of the good practices in order to lighten the resources we use: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. Yelling at the recycling center staff isn’t likely the best way to get what you want and it slows them down from doing their job of recycling. Often towns have a Recycling Committee and it is best to put your request and questions in writing locally and follow up with it. It is true that the squeaky wheel does get the grease!
Sometimes changes in recycling policies are the result of a change in the market to sell them; other times it is due to lack of space at the recycling center for that commodity. Each town has different places they send their recyclables, which is why towns have different recycling policies. NRRA helps to find each town the best solution for their needs and assist with problem-solving.
NH is considering several bills to ban single-use plastic bags. How do I recycle them in the meantime?
Heidi from Hollis
Here’s the first piece of advice: Don’t take your plastic bags from the grocery store and pharmacy to the recycling center! According to plasticfilmrecycling.com you can plug in your zip code and find the local drop off centers for flexible film. The following stores near Hollis accept plastic bags: Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe’s, Hannaford’s, Kohl’s, Whole Foods, Shaw’s, JCP, and Market Basket. These can include: single use grocery bags, produce bags, bread bags, zip top food storage bags, dry cleaning bags, plastic shipping envelopes, bottle case wrap, air pillows, bubble wrap, and newspaper bags. If the plastic stretches easily and is clean and dry, it can be recycled as a #2 or #4 plastic film. Bags are taken from the stores to distribution centers where they are picked up by companies like Trex to be made in to plastics lumber and other products. Happy recycling!
When I call NRRA with a full load of cardboard, they ask me all sorts of annoying questions like, “Does the load have any wet strength?” I am upset because they know that I store the cardboard inside under shelter and it isn’t wet outside. Why do they keep asking about wet strength?
Signed, All washed up in Walpole
Dear Washed Up-
The recycling market has seen lots of changes lately, and paper mills are allowed to be more picky about what material they select to buy. Wet strength is a measure of how well the web of fibers holding the paper together can resist a force of rupture when the paper is wet. Beer boxes and soda cartons commonly use a coating of plastic film on the paper to improve wet strength. But these chemicals, including urea-formaldehyde (UF), melamine-formaldehyde (MF) and polyamide-epichlorohydrin (PAE) are not what paper mills want in with their pure cardboard. Most facilities are putting beer boxes and soda cartons in with their mixed paper, since pure cardboard and brown paper bags get the best price in the market today.
My Mom has 5 cats and she dutifully cleans out the cat food cans and recycles them separately at her recycling station. The operator there said she doesn’t have to separate them but put them in with the steel cans. Why shouldn’t she put them in with the aluminum cans since they earn more revenue when they are recycled and they are aluminum? And hey, what about aluminum plates and aluminum foil?
Related to Crazy Cat Lady in Concord
Dear Crazy Cat Lady Relation-
As crazy as it sounds, the town will get the best price for their aluminum cans if it is JUST aluminum cans (or UBC Used Beverage Cans) and not foil, plates, or cat food cans. Cat food cans are lined with a polycarbonate resin that makes them not as “pure” as a soda can for recycling. If your town recycling center separates out cat food cans and foil with plates, they will get a better price than steel but not as good as aluminum. If you town doesn’t separate these things, they can still be recycled with the steel cans. Of course all of these items are rinsed of food and do not have grease on them.
There is a fight going on in my family: Should we leave container caps on or off?
Signed, Cap in Chichester
- Plastic caps are recyclable
- NRRA encourages residents to empty their containers
- Rinse them with water
- Recycle the containers with the plastic caps removed in the same bin at your recycling center
- Contact your local hauler and processor to verify that their specs allow for cap removal because markets can vary
The reasons we recommend that caps are removed from containers:
- If some liquid remains in the bottle, it can cause pressure in the containers when they are baled
- It can also create a mess when the liquid drains from the container when baled
- Questionable liquids can cause the staff to toss a container into the waste instead of being recycled
Some specs allow caps to be left on containers. But NRRA’s recommendation is to remove caps and educate residents with signage for cleaner recycling.
We see a lot of wrapping paper in our Mixed Paper bin at the recycling center. Is any of it actually recyclable?
Signed, Foiled in Fitzwilliam
- Non-foil wrapping paper is recyclable.
- Anything with foil, glitter or ribbons is not recyclable.
NRRA cautions that most used wrapping paper is contaminated with foil, ribbons and the paper is made from such low quality and high levels of ink. The paper is so light that it doesn’t affect the weight of a bale in the market. Unless you are very strict, it is best to put used wrapping paper in the waste instead of recycling it. Some mills will not accept bales when they see with wrapping paper in it.
If you wish to cut down on waste, buy or make cloth bags or buy reusable paper gift bags