Batteries, Plastic, Paper, Glass, Aluminum, Steel, Motor Oil, Toxics,Refrigerators, Computer Printers, False Claims, Recycling Tips
This guide attempts to cover everything an informed consumer should know about commonly recycled materials, in plain no-nonsense terms. A secondary purpose is to increase awareness of how materials should be marked for easy recycling. Special attention is given to materials that are poorly understood or hard to recycle, like motoroil and rechargeable batteries.
Each entry describes a commonly recycled material, important facts about the material, and the proper recycling markings. Specific product features arelisted with one of three codes, A, B or C:
Click on one of the symbols when you see it below for more information.
With a little bit of care much plastic can be recycled, and collection of plastics for recycling is increasing rapidly. Plastic recycling faces one huge problem: plastic types must not be mixed for recycling, yet it is impossible to tell one type from another by sight or touch. Even a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can ruin the melt. The plastic industry has responded to this problem by developing a series of cryptic markers, commonly seen on the bottom ofplastic containers. These markers do not mean the plastic can be recycled, these makers do not mean the container uses recycled plastic. Despite the confusing use of the chasing arrow symbol, these markers only identify the plastic type.
Virtually everything made of plastic should be marked with a code. Not all types can actually be recycled. Types 1 and 2 are widely accepted in container form,and type 4 is sometimes accepted in bag form. Code 7 is for mixed or layered plastic with virtually no recycling potential. You should place in your bin only those types of plastic listed by your local recycling agency! Due to fluxuating market conditions, some colors or shapes may be useless to the recycling agency.
All plastic containers you purchase should be marked with a large and clear recycling code (C). This code must be molded into the plastic and located on the bottom surface of the container. Ideally the entire container should be made of the same plastic to avoid confusion, but often the caps are of a different type. Caps should be separately marked, butfew are(B). Note that most caps are NOT of the same type as the bottle they sit on.
Plastic grocery and produce sacks are commonly, but not always, made from plastic types 2 or 4. These bags are often collected at grocery stores. While virtually all plastic containers are marked, many bags do not show recycling codes(B).
Plastic bags are nearly useless as a recycled material. They're collectedonly to make consumers feel good. We recommend that people don't bother to collect them.
Any product made of a single plastic type should be marked -- after all the product may one day break or be replaced. This includes toys, plastic hangars,trash cans, shelves, baskets, rain ponchos, and many other products (B). Many products, such as compact discs, videotapes, and computer discs, are made from mixed materials which can't be recycledunless first disassembled.
Glass, steel (or "tin") and aluminum are easy to recognize and recycle. For clarity, a recycling symbol should be present, but most people have little trouble sorting these materials. Glass bottles must not be mixed with other types of glass such as windows, light bulbs, mirrors, glass tableware, Pyrex or auto glass. Ceramics contaminate glass and are difficult to sort out.Clear glass is the most valuable. Mixed color glass is near worthless, and broken glass is hard to sort.
There have been marketing experiments with plastic and steel cans that look exactly like aluminum cans. Recycling plants have been damaged by these fakes. The distinctive shape of an aluminum beverage can must be reserved for aluminum beverage cans only (C).
It is no longer necessary to remove labels for recycling. To save water, clean only enough to prevent odors. Unlike with plastics, the high temperature of glass and metal processing deals easily with contamination.
Scrap aluminum is accepted in many places. Other metals are rarely accepted.
The square boxes used for liquids are called "Aseptics", the most common brand of which is "Tetra Pak". Aseptics are made from complexlayers of plastic, metal and paper. The aseptic industry has spent millions inpublic education on the issue of aseptic recycling, including distribution of classroom guides and posters like "Drink Boxes are as Good on the Outside as They are on the Inside" and "A Day in the Life of a Drink Box". The actual recycling process, unfortunately, is very expensive and awkward, and is therefore only available in a very few places. Coca-Cola maintains a list of aseptic recyclers. Because of the difficulties, only an insignificant fraction of aseptic packagesare currently recycled.
Most types of paper can be recycled. Newspapers have been recycled profitably for decades, and recycling of other paper is growing. Virgin paper pulp prices have soared in recent years prompting construction of more plants capable of using waste paper. They key to recyclingis collecting large quantities of clean, well-sorted, uncontaminated and drypaper.
|50% recycled paper,|
It is important to know what you are buying in a paper product, for that reason virtually all paper products should be marked with the percentage andtype of recycled content. Just saying"recycled paper" is not enough. "Recycled paper" could mean anything from 100% true recycled paper to 1% re-manufactured ends of large paper rolls. "Post-consumer" means the paper that you and I return to recycling centers. From a recycling point of view, the more "post-consumer"paper the better. Soybean-based inks are gaining favor as a renewable alternative to harsh and toxic petrochemical inks.
One of the highest grades of paper is white office paper. Acceptable areclean white sheets from the likes of laser printers and copy machines. Colored,contaminated, or lower grade paper is not acceptable. The wrappers the papercomes in are of lower grade, and not acceptable. Staples are ok. White office paper may be downgraded, and recycled with mixed paper.
In areas that don't take cardboard from consumers, one can often drop boxes off at a supermarket or other high volume business. Contaminated cardboard,like greasy pizza boxes, is not acceptable. In some areas cardboard must befree of tape, but staples are always OK.
Newspaper is widely available and of uniform consistency, which makes it valuable. The entire newspaper including inserts acceptable, except for thingslike plastic, product samples and rubber bands. Newspapers may be stuffed inlarge brown grocery sacks, or tied with natural-fiber twine. Other brown paperbags may be mixed with newspaper.
Some phone books are made with a special glue that breaks down in water,while other phone books use a glue that interferes with recycling. Printed inyour phone book should be information on the source and type of paper used, thenature of the binding, and where locally phone books can be recycled(C). Note that many phone companies continue to use virgin rain forest to produce directories. In many communities phone books are only accepted during the time new directories are distributed.
Milk cartons are plastic laminated inside. A few communities accept milkcartons for recycling. The cartons with a plastic spout must be landfilled(C).
Mixed paper is a catch-all for types of paper not specifically mentioned above. Everything you can imagine from magazines to packaging is acceptable. The paper must still be clean, dry, and free of food, most plastic, wax, andother contamination. Staples are OK.
Remove plastic wrap, stickers, product samples, and those pointless "membership"cards, and most junk mail can be recycled as mixed paper. Due to new technology, plastic window envelopes and staples are generally ok.
Paper that can't be recycled as normal "mixed paper" includes:food contaminated paper, waxed paper, waxed cardboard milk & juice containers, oil soaked paper, carbon paper, sanitary products or tissues,thermal fax paper, stickers and plastic laminated paper such as fast food wrappers, juice boxes, and pet food bags.
Paper with any sort of contamination or plastic layers can't be recycled. Plastic laminated paper is bad for recycling plants; such paper should beclearly marked (A).
Most older refrigeration equipment contains freon, a chemical know as a Chlorinated Fluorocarbon or "CFC" for short. Each molecule of a CFCcan destroy over 100,000 molecules of the earth's protective ozone coating,leading to increased risk of sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer for the entire population of the planet (human AND animal).
If you are throwing away an old refrigerator, heat pump or air conditioner please be sure the CFC's are drained out and recycled first. Use only a haulerwho will perform this important service -- call and ask before you let them take your old equipment away. Before having your car's air conditioner serviced, ask what the shop does with the freon. Never allow a leaking refrigeration system to be recharged.
A number of international treaties, federal and state laws govern the use of CFC's. Handlers of refrigeration equipment can get information on laws andrecycling equipment from the American Refrigeration Institute
Nickel-Cadmium rechargeable batteries ("NiCads") contain, a metalthat causes blood and reproductive damage , among other problems. These batteries are commonly used in portable telephones, power tools, radios and video tape recorders. Several states now prohibit consumers from dumping these batteries into the normal trash. These batteries pose little hazard in use (the Cadmium is in a stable form), but are adanger in land fills. To conform with most state laws theactual battery must have a warning and recycling logo, something likethis:
|Battery contains Nickel and Cadmium -- must be|
recycled or disposedof in accordance with local laws.
The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation is an industry funded group promoting battery recycling. Manufacturers pay a fee to use the above logo and support the costs of the eventual collection of the batteries they sell. The RBRC provides free postage paid collection boxes and support materials to retailers:
Used motor oil contains heavy metals and other toxic substances, and is considered hazardous waste. Each year do-it-yourself oil changers improperly dump more oil than the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled into Alaska's Prince William Sound. One quart of oil can kill fish in thousands of gallons of water. Motor oil containers should mention the danger of used oil to humans and the environment.
Motor oil must never be dumped in storm drains; storm drains flow *untreated* into rivers, lakes or oceans. Your quart of oil *does* make adifference - don't dump it.
Recycling used motor oil is easy. Typically you used oil into a plastic milk ug and clearly mark it "used motor oil". The following should help you find a location to take the oil. Please drop off oil during regular business hours only:
Antifreeze contaminates motor oil - do not mix the two. If your car has blown a gasket and you are draining the oil, mark it clearly as potentially contaminated and treat it as non-recyclable household waste. Nevermix anything with used motor oil. Never place used oil in a container that has contained other chemicals.
Most printer cartridges are easily recycled, refilled or re-built. But printer vendors sell the printer cheap, and make their real money selling supplies. They don't want you be environmental.
The "right" environmental solution is to sell new cartridges with a postage paid mailer for returning the old one.Some forward-thinking companies, such as Hewlett-Packard, have been known to do this, especially for laser printers.Sometimes you can find free envelopes for donating cartridges to arefiller, but don't bother with refill kits. They may save money, but they are messy, and you use as much plastic as a new cartridge.
To make a difference, buy recycled paper for your printer (because of the fine grain, itcan look better than regular sliced trees). Grab piles of "blank onone side" paper from work, and use the other side.
Encourge your company to buy a printer with duplexing (two sided printing), and to hire a company to take away waste paper regularly.WARNING: You may have a recycle bin at your company. Stay a little late one night and ask the cleaning people where it goes. You may be in fora shock.
It may seem strange to see the word compost on a recycling page, but compost is just recycled plant matter. Food and yard scraps placed in a special bin are converted into valuable garden soil in a matter of weeks. Compost bins areavailable at garden stores & nurseries. Composting can easily reduce by half the volume of material a household sends to a landfill. If you don't care about accelerating the processing, just keep adding material at the top. Just try to keep a balance of dry "brown"materials and fresh "green" material.
Individuals tend to be very sloppy when it comes to handling toxic materials in the home. Individuals often handle toxic chemicals in ways businesses would be fined for. The heaviest application of agricultural chemicals in the USA comes not from agribusiness, but rather from home gardeners. Indoor air pollution from household products is often found to exceed allowable federal outdoor quality rules.
Items such as poisons, paints, oil, solvents, automotive fluids, cleaners,herbicides and many others must not be dumped into the regular garbage. Water seeps through landfills and toxics end up in the water table. In areas that burn garbage, your toxics may end up in the air you breathe. The best thing to do isuse what you buy, buy only what you need.
If you have accumulated toxics, check with your garbage company or local recycling agency -- almost all areas have household toxics drop-off days or locations.
Chemicals must must never be dumped in storm drains; such drains typically flow *untreated* into rivers, lakes or oceans.
How can one be sure that stated environmental claims are actually true? Manufacturers have been known to make misleading, trivial, irrelevant and falsestatements on packaging. Statements like "recycled" or "earth friendly" are so vague as to have no practical meaning. The more specific aclaim, the easier it is verify.
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