Contamination — when items that can’t be recycled curbside are put into curbside bins — is one of the biggest challenges facing recycling today. Currently in Gwinnett, 19% of what we’re collectively setting out at our curbs isn’t actually recyclable curbside (or may not be recyclable at all). Nationally, one in four items placed into a recycling container is not recyclable curbside. This creates enormous problems for the recycling economy. Since recyclers want to buy material that ideally contains zero contamination, that puts recycling sorters in a very tough spot and results in too much stuff going to landfills.
The only items accepted in curbside recycling in Gwinnett County are empty plastic bottles and jugs that are marked with a #1 or a #2 resin identification code (the number inside the recycling symbol); empty metal food and beverage cans; empty aerosol cans; paper (except waxed or shredded paper); magazines and junk mail; and flattened cardboard. It’s a short list, but it’s very important that we stick to it to do our part to reduce recycling contamination.
The best thing we can do for recycling is to keep our household recycling streams clean and free of contaminants. Go by the mantra “when in doubt, keep it out!” Recycling right is good for the economy, the environment, and our community.
That said, it can take a while to learn and remember what’s recyclable curbside and what’s not. Can you recognize contamination when you see it? Check out these photos of recycling bins and click the button below each photo to learn what in that bin can’t be recycled curbside in Gwinnett County.
Hint: To keep you on your toes, one or more bins might not have any contamination! See if you can guess which ones.
How did you do? Were any of the recycling mistakes ones that you’ve made before too? Don’t worry if you got some wrong or haven’t recycled perfectly in the past. Starting today, see if you can make a couple of small changes each week to recycle more of the good stuff and keep the wrong stuff out. It’ll go a long way!