Misconceptions make recycling more difficult

Teresa Bishop, Waste Management’s public affairs manager, said there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding recycling. Many people think anything that’s plastic can go in the bin, but that’s not true, she said. Plastic bags, for instance, are a huge “no-no.” They get caught in the machinery and can shut down the recycling facilities. They should be taken back to the stores to be recycled.

Their biggest problem is contaminants, she said. You can have your bin filled all nice and neat with cardboard and water bottles, and then someone throws in a soda can with an inch of soda left in the bottom. When that soda gets all over the rest of your recyclables, they are now contaminated and have to be thrown away. Any grease or food residue that gets on the recyclables will cause them to be thrown away. They don’t have the manpower to sort and clean everything down at the plant. If you have a little bit of mayo in the bottom of your jar, and it doesn’t get on anything else, they would only throw away the mayo jar because the mayo is contaminating the jar but did not contaminate anything else in the bin. But think about it, she said: If your goal is to recycle that mayo jar, you want to rinse it out before putting it in the bin, because if you don’t, it will be thrown away, and you will not have achieved your goal. If you order a pizza and the cardboard box it arrives in has grease or sauce on it, it cannot be recycled. It is contaminated.

Mrs. Bishop says the most common contaminants found in recycling bins are the following:
• Recyclables inside a garbage bag or other plastic bag — They do not have the manpower to take things out of the bag and sort through it and would throw the entire bag away.
• Food and liquids — Compost these items instead or throwing them in the garbage.
• Electronics and small appliances — If these are in good condition, donate them. Otherwise, schedule a bulky item pickup.
• Textiles, bedding, rugs and carpets — If they are in good condition, donate them. Otherwise, dispose of them.
• Hoses, holiday lights, hangers and extension cords — They can wrap around equipment and shut down an entire facility.
• Plastic bags, film/sheeting and flexible film packaging.
• Paper napkins and tissues — Many people think these are OK because they are paper, she said, but once you have wiped your mouth on them, they are contaminated. These should be composted if possible.
• Polystyrene foam — Foam and plastic to-go containers are not recyclable curbside.
• Tires, auto parts and scrap metal cannot be recycled curbside.
• Concrete, wood and construction debris.
• Yard waste.
• Non-recyclable plastic — not everything that is plastic is recyclable.

In Okeechobee, homes within the city have curbside recycling, said Mrs. Bishop, and there are a few areas in the county with curbside pickup, but most homes in the county do not have pic up and would have to drop their recycling off at the recycling plant on Northwest Ninth Street. They are open Monday through Friday except between the hours of 12 and 1, when they close for lunch. If you want curbside recycling in your area, she said, you would need to talk to the county commissioners because it is up to them. She said people ask about the bins that used to be located around town. They had to remove them because often they would find that someone had dumped their trash in the bin and contaminated all the recycling.

“It takes 100 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose,” said Mrs. Bishop, “and the average person creates four-and-a-half pounds of trash every day. If we aren’t careful, we will use up all our land. If we recycle, we are only putting maybe one pound of trash in the landfill every day. That’s a lot better than four and a half,” she said.

She said the things we should concentrate on recycling are plastic bottles and containers, food and beverage containers, paper, flattened cardboard, food and beverage cartons and glass bottles and containers, but don’t forget to rinse these containers out. You don’t have to wash them, she explained, but they have to be rinsed out or they can’t be used.

Did you know, recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for two hours or power a 14-watt CFL bulb for 20 hours or power a computer for three hours?

For more recycling information and tips, visit recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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