Recycling Process Confusing?

Figuring out what and how to recycle can be daunting.  You think you’re doing a good thing by putting lots of plastic in your recycling bin only to find out they’re going to throw it out if you don’t recycle the right way or the right items.  So why bother?  By now you are way past that question but if you have to ask we need to have a longer conversation.
So what can you recycle and how do you do it?  Here are some guidelines I learned and the crazy journey I took to find out.

1.  Check the county you live in or with your trash service. If you live in Fairfax County Virginia you quickly find out that there are many restrictions.  Their website offers many resources including a pictorial cheat sheet to show you what you can and cannot recycle at the curb.

2.  Follow their guidelines. Rinse the containers, flatten the boxes and if it’s a bottle take off the lid.  I have been told some facilities will throw out your bottles if they still have lids on them.  Check with yours.

3.  Drop-off sites.  When recycling things like batteries, yard care products and hazardous household waste that is not picked up curbside, find your county’s designated drop off sites.
4.  Styrofoam- mail it to be recycled. You know the foam packing material around an appliance (polystyrene or EPS) well AFPR is one company that will recycle that.  EPS can be identified by the # 6 plastic resin identification code. Many types of foam plastic are not clearly marked. If you have questions please contact AFPR at (410) 451-8340 for clarification.  AFPRdoes not accept meat trays, cups, egg cartons or other disposable food service items for recycling.

5. Sell it. The Recycled Plastic Markets Database allows you to search for buyers of a wide variety of plastics. For more information, visit the American Chemistry Council.

6. Search for facilities that will take items not picked up curbside. Our trash service currently does not pick up plastics with #3, #4, #5, #6, #7.  Search on Earth 911 to see where in your community these items and many others can be recycled.  Call to confirm before you head out the door.

Well yesterday morning I set out to find where I could take plastics #5 (yogurt containers) and #6 (egg cartons, Styrofoam meat trays) to be

Vancouver Art Gallery Recycling

Vancouver Art Gallery Recycling

recycled.  After spending 3 hours researching on the web and talking to 12 different people at the county office and local companies, I finally found Jim Langemeier. Jim is the general manager of Capital Fiber.  This facility is a joint venture between the Washington Post Company and Canusa Corporation.  According to their website in addition to processing the waste fiber generated by the Washington Post and its affiliate printing operations, this plant processes fibers and commingled containers from other area suppliers, including local municipalities.
Right now where I live every neighborhood, town and county is doing its own thing.  Sometimes they all work together, follow the same guidelines but not often.  This was the reason I was told they didn’t know but call this next person. This led me to Jim.  First he told me where to drop off my recycling.  Next he shared some exciting news that his company is building a new state of the art facility that is a full line single stream recycling center.  This means no more sorting your recycling.  Everything will be sorted as it is processed.  Jim said his current facility processes 17,000 tons a month.  This new facility will be able to process 30,000 tons a month.  This facility will also process plastics coded #1 – #7.  That’s all of them!  He expects the new facility to be up and running in January 2009.  They will offer 3 days of open houses for anyone to come and see exactly what they do so I will keep you posted.
Many cities and towns across the nation already use single stream recycling.

If you live in such a place please leave a comment on how your program has worked for you.

In the mean time try not to buy items with the recycle codes of #3, #5, or #6.  Not sure, turn the item over and check the code on the bottom.  If you must, and there are just things we must, reuse them or clean them to be recycled.  Remember every time you throw something out it has to go somewhere.  So every item you can keep out of the landfills is a small victory for our planet.

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