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Recycling Dos and Don’ts: Here’s how to do it right

Putting non-recyclables in the mix makes the process more expensive for taxpayers

Louis Aguirre walks through what you can and cannot recycle in the latest installment of "Don't Trash Our Treasure."
Louis Aguirre walks through what you can and cannot recycle in the latest installment of "Don't Trash Our Treasure."

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – The planet is in the grips of a plastic crisis, and parts of South Florida aren’t even offering recycling anymore because it’s gotten too expensive.

A big factor is that many residents don’t know how to properly recycle. They put items in that don’t belong, driving up costs and labor.

So in this week’s “Don’t Trash Our Treasure” we headed back to the Waste Management plant in Pembroke Pines to break down the Dos and Don’ts of recycling.

It’s something many of us do, but few actually do it right.

“60% of the people want to recycle, but they’re confused and they don’t know how, and they are making mistakes,” said Dawn McCormick of Waste Management, Inc. of Florida.

And because of that many cities have had to reconsider their recycling programs.

“They’re being charged so much that many cities are rethinking doing recycling,” Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr said.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is putting their recycling in plastic bags. Under no circumstances are plastic bags ever recyclable.

“It’s a huge problem,” McCormick said. “It adds costs, it damages machinery.”

Instead, dump your recyclables loose in your bin.

That also means no plastic grocery bags, no plastic shopping bags, no plastic dry cleaning covers in the bin. It doesn’t matter what they say, they are not recyclable.

The truth is, not all plastic can be recycled. Less than 9% of plastics are. Just because you throw it in the bin doesn’t mean it’s getting recycled.

We found an example of someone thinking they could recycle an infant car seat.

That is called wish cycling. Don’t do it. It clogs the machinery and brings the entire process to a grinding halt.

“This is what happens multiple times a day because something got in there,” McCormick said. “You have to stop the whole machinery.”

Workers then have to remove all those contaminates by hand and haul them away, and guess who pays for that?

“In many of our contracts we charge as much as $55 a ton extra just to handle that garbage,” McCormick said.

Solo cups, plastic cups and plastic utensils are not recyclable. These are single-use plastics, meaning you use them once then throw them away. But there is no “away.” They end up in landfills, or worse, in our waterways, oceans and beaches where they take up to 500 years to biodegrade.

So what can be recycled? The most in-demand plastic the market wants is the #1 PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). That’s the kind of plastic found in water and soda bottles, oils and dressings, peanut butter jars. Just make sure you rinse them out.

“You don’t want food residue in any of the material,” McCormick said.

Next is the #2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene). That’s the kind of plastic used in milk jugs, detergent and household cleaning containers.

Lastly, there’s the #5 plastic (polypropylene). It’s what most dairy tubs are made of. The problem is, only 3% of these are actually bought by the market, so the rest end up in landfills.

And that’s pretty much it when it comes to plastic recyclables.

That means if plastic isn’t a #1 or # 2, chances are it’s not getting recycled.

Cans are almost always recyclable. But incredibly, most people just throw them away.

“Unfortunately in Florida we’re only recycling about 20% of our cans,” McCormick said. “So there’s a lot of cans out there that are going into the garbage.”

Same goes for paper and boxes. Recyclers want those.

Cardboard is high in demand right now — just make sure you flatten it first before putting it in the bin.

And yes, that even means pizza boxes. Just scrape off any cheese first and throw out your crusts!

“If you can empty your pizza box and it’s relatively clean, then we do want it,” McCormick said. “And that’s a change.”

So remember to recycle right: No plastic bags ever. Only clean, dry and empty cardboard, paper, bottles and cans.

“Recycling works when you do it right,” McCormick said. “When in doubt, throw it out in the garbage.”

Global plastic production is expected to quadruple over the next 30 years, and with less than 9% of plastics being recycled, there’s no way we are going to recycle our way out of this crisis. The only way out is to refuse plastic whenever possible, reduce our use of plastics, reuse the plastic we have now — then recycle or repair what we can’t.

Below is a full rundown about what you can and can’t recycle.

Recycling Dos and Dont’s

TOSS IT IN THE RECYCLING BIN:

  • Plastic water and beverage bottles
  • Milk & water jugs
  • Detergent, shampoo, liquid soap containers
  • Drink boxes, juice cartons and milk cartons
  • Glass (food & beverage containers only. Clear, green and brown glass only)
  • Aluminum cans and bottles
  • Other steel cans (food and beverage containers only)
  • Clean dry newspapers, magazines, catalogs, telephone books, printer paper, copier paper, mail and other office paper without wax liners
  • Cardboard packing boxes, cereal boxes, gift boxes and corrugated cardboard
  • Remember to flatten all boxes before placing them in your bin

DON’T PLACE IN THE RECYCLE BIN:

  • NEVER Plastic bags
  • Do not put your recyclables in plastic bags or put ANY loose plastic bags in the recycling
  • NO plastic film or wrappings or dry cleaning bags
  • NO plastic bags, cups, utensils and plates
  • NO Paper or cardboard with liquid or food waste
  • NO Batteries
  • NO styrofoam products, egg cartons and trays
  • NO margarine and butter tubs, yogurt cups, plastic hangers
  • NO glass products: light bulbs, mirrors, glass cookware or bakeware, or ceramics
  • NO wire coat hangers
  • NO small appliances, microwave trays
  • NO Home chemicals like paints, pesticides, pool chemicals, fertilizers or other household hazardous waste
  • NO Garbage or food waste
  • NO gas tanks
  • NO rocks, dirt, building debris
  • NO garden hoses
  • NO holiday lights or decorations
  • NO Medical waste or pharmaceuticals
  • NO Electronic waste and accessories
  • NO computer monitors, TVs, printer cartridges, keyboards, cell phones, CDs and DVDs
  • NO Textiles: clothes, shoes, bedding, pillows, etc.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre returned home to Miami and Local 10 in September 2017.