When it comes to recycling, there are a few universal rules we should all live by, no matter where you live.
- Always check your local requirements. The most important rule in recycling is knowing what you can recycle. This means checking with your city or local recycler on what they accept. Why? Not all recycling facilities are created equal and there is no uniform process across every facility. The collection method, sorting process, and downstream processor relationships of your local recycler all determine what they can accept. For example, in Sioux Falls we have single stream recycling. This means that all household recyclables are collected in one, single bin. When they get to the recycling facility, they are sorted with our automated equipment that separates out specific categories we have set the equipment up for. After all of the materials are sorted, they are sent to our regional processing partners who all have unique requirements what they can accept based on their own cleaning, melting, and/or shredding processes.
- Avoid Non-Recyclable Items. Once you know what you CAN recycle, avoid buying things you can’t. For example, choose a plastic bottle of juice (YES!) instead of an individual juice pouch (No); Choose a disposable paper coffee cup (YES!) instead of a styrofoam cup (No); Choose paper wrapping paper for gifts (YES!) instead of foil or laminated giftwrap (No); Choose paper bags at the grocery store (YES!) instead of plastic (No, not in the single stream); Choose an item packaged in a cardboard box (YES!) instead of the same item packaged in a plastic bag (No); Skip the straw at restaurants and drink straight from the cup!
- Reuse as Much as Possible. Avoid wasting more by reusing as much as you can! You can bring your own bag to the grocery store, bring reusable containers or bags for fruits, veggies and bulk foods, reuse disposable plastic silverware, or bring your own reusable straw to restaurants and convenience stores. Just because something can’t be recycled in your area doesn’t mean you can’t find another use for it. Flex your creativity and think about how you can repurpose something – dive into Pinterest for ideas!
- Recycle Clean Items. Before tossing your recyclables in the bin, try to remove any food or liquids. Leftover milk in a jug, oil in a bottle, or cottage cheese in a tub can contaminate all other clean materials, especially paper and cardboard. Small amounts of food or liquid won’t interfere with most recycling processes, but if everyone leaves a little it can quickly turn into a lot when we’re recycling in bulk! Help the process out by giving your containers a quick scrape. If in doubt, give it a rinse, let it dry and toss it in. If it’s too contaminated and you can’t get it empty or clear, don’t recycle it. A great example is a pizza box… if it’s full of food and grease, rip that part off and recycle just the clean cardboard.
- Find Alternative Recycling Options. If something can’t go in your recycling bin, it doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled. Many different companies and services make up the landfill diversion effort, your recycling bin is just one of them. Ask your city where to take items that can’t go in the bin to avoid sending them to the landfill. In Sioux Falls for example, you can bring electronics and chemicals to the Household Hazardous Waste facility, pharmacies offer sharps disposal programs, the police department offers prescription disposal, specialty recyclers offer wood and scrap metal recycling, and the landfill offers various recycling programs including mattresses, yard waste, tires, etc. If you’re willing to put in a little effort to recycle non single stream items, you can usually find an alternative option from your trash bin.