While plenty of items can be recycled, the real determining factor is whether or not the processor they’re being sent to has the infrastructure in place to recycle the material. Sending materials to a facility that aren’t recyclable by that facility puts an additional, unwanted burden on that processor and leads to recycling being less cost-effective and sustainable in the long term. Many common household items are not accepted in curbside programs, but they’re far from being “unrecyclable.” Still, don’t be a wishful recycler and put those materials in the curbside bin in the hopes they’ll be recycled anyway — this only results in them being sent later to the landfill. Read on to find out the right way to dispose of them.
Let’s begin by examining the most common way to recycle, which is the single-stream curbside program that many communities, like Gwinnett County and its cities, have put into place. Materials commonly accepted curbside include hard plastics #1-7, aluminum, paper, paperboard, cardboard, and small steel items such as cans. Even these common materials, when contaminated with food, liquid, or dirt, can be hard for processors to recycle.
For instance, be aware that just because paper and cardboard are accepted curbside, it doesn’t mean that by the time it reaches the recycling facility, it will still be usable. Oftentimes, cardboard and paper sitting out curbside gets soaked with rain or fluids from other leaking recyclables. Once this occurs, the materials are usually no longer recyclable and must be sent to the landfill. Because of this, the best method to make certain your paper and cardboard is recycled is to take it to a drop-off site. Some folks will wrap their paper in plastic bags to try to prevent the contamination, but this is also bad practice as the recycling facilities that process Gwinnett County’s recyclables do not accept plastic bags and will assume that bagged material is trash and send it to the landfill. If you can find a conveniently located dumpster marked “cardboard only,” ask the owner if you can recycle your cardboard there. Since these dumpsters have a direct route to the recycling facility, they ensure minimal contamination.
Some very common materials are recyclable but are not typically accepted curbside, such as plastic bags, Styrofoam, and glass. For these items, there are drop-off recycling locations in and around Gwinnett. Plastic shopping bags and other forms of stretchy plastic can be returned to stores such as Kroger, Publix, Target, Best Buy, and Walmart, among others. Publix accepts Styrofoam trays and egg cartons. Glass is trickier, but it is accepted in some curbside programs in Gwinnett and can also be recycled at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM), with locations in Atlanta and Athens. CHaRM goes well beyond glass to accept numerous materials, including but not limited to Styrofoam of all kinds, metal, textiles, batteries, oil/grease, carpet, waxed cartons, paint, household chemicals, electronics, tires, mattresses, propane tanks, appliances, bulbs, and more! Some of these items, especially when disposing of in bulk, may incur a fee, so see their website for complete details and the latest list of recyclables. Finally, TerraCycle.com allows consumers to easily recycle many items that would normally not be recyclable (such as cosmetics packaging, dental hygiene packaging, food wrappers, and more) by shipping these items to the company free of charge and earning points for charity while doing so.
Major store chains are getting on board with the green push to accept some of the items they sell for recycling, most free of charge. For example, the Home Depot accepts rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs, and incandescent holiday light strings. Batteries Plus stores accepts batteries, and Cartridge World takes all types of ink and toner printer cartridges. Best Buy and Target accept small electronics and cables, whether they still work or not. Check out our recycling directory for the full list of “unrecyclable” (curbside, that is) things in your home that actually are recyclable if you bring them to a store that you probably shop at anyway!
In addition to living in the most wasteful nation on the planet, we also reside just outside the nation’s third most wasteful city. This information isn’t meant to be discouraging, it just means we have a lot of room for improvement. What’s stopping you from inspiring others by starting small and committing to collect and store one particular material, perhaps something that your household generates a lot of, and take it to an appropriate facility for recycling? The tried-and-true strategy I’ve put into place is waiting until I have collected a full load of a material before taking it to a facility, preferably when it’s conveniently on the way to another destination of interest. Those Saturday hours at recycling drop-off locations certainly come in handy!
Note: The photo for this post is of a recent CHaRM facility tour taken by some of the members of the Gwinnett Recycling Action Team, the volunteer group that created this website. Sign up for our team to join future tours and get active in recycling!