10 Things You Can’t Recycle (in CT)

Hello everyone! A few weeks ago, my town hosted its annual Energy Fair. While I was there volunteering for my local environmentalist non-profit, I learned many things! The booth I was at was about recycling (a very controversial topic, but that’s a story for another day!), and there, I learned that there were so many items that we couldn’t throw in our recycling bins (at least not in Connecticut)! 

You see, the things we put in our residential recycling bins go through a process called single-stream recycling. The name is pretty self-explanatory; all of the recycling gets dumped onto one large conveyor belt and then gets sorted by a machine that scans it. Along the belt are workers that hand pick out items that do not belong, but alas, humans are humans, and so more often than not, a non-recyclable item makes its way into the rest of the stuff. Unfortunately, this contaminates the whole batch and forces the whole batch to be discarded. This process is very “picky”, so many things that are theoretically recyclable can not be handled by the system. Here are 10 of such items!

  1. Black plastic: While plastic is recyclable, the issue here is the color. The scanners cannot register the black color of this plastic because most often than not, it is identical to that of the conveyor belt, so to the scanner, the black plastic looks like part of the belt.
  1. Crushed cartons: The scanner detects everything in its original condition, so it does not recognize crushed plastic cartons. If you recycle these, make sure to keep them in their original conditions, no matter how much space they take up! (The same goes for cans.)
  1. Shredded paper: Paper is completely recyclable, but this form of it’s long and skinny nature makes it prone to getting stuck in cramped spots, which jams up the machine and causes a whole lot of inconvenience. To avoid this, they ask that shredded paper not be recycled.
  1. Aluminum foil: Most of the aluminum foil that gets thrown into the recycling are singular sheets, but like the shredded paper, these can get jammed in the machine. Not to worry though, because unlike the shredded paper, there’s a handy solution. Every time you need to discard individual sheets of aluminum, rinse and keep them. As you collect more and more, you can form them into a large ball, which will eventually be large enough to get through the machine.
  1. Plastic film / bags (also those freezer bags that frozen fruit and other frozen items come in): Like the previous two, these are notorious for jamming up machines. However, some grocery stores like Stop & Shop can recycle these for you if you give them to them.
  1. Coffee cups: These cannot be handled by the system since they are usually made up of more than one kind of recyclable material (eg. plastic and paper). Even though the materials are recyclable, they cannot be separated by the machine (materials must be separated because they get recycled differently), and thus are not recyclable.
  1. Take-out containers: These often have food residue remaining on them, and no matter how much you clean them, there is no way to completely remove all of it. Food cannot be recycled, so it contaminates the whole load, causing it to be thrown out.
  1. Loose plastic caps: These are too small to be recycled, and often will go undetected by the scanner, so make sure to keep all of the caps on bottles when recycling them.
  1. Prescription bottles: These are also too small to be recycled, however, you can try finding a local service that will take them for you.
  1. Tissue paper / napkins: This is pretty obvious by now, but tissue paper and napkins are too thin to be recycled, so avoid throwing them in your recycling bin.

As you can see, the main reasons why recyclable things cannot be recycled are as follows:

  • They cannot be detected by the scanner
  • They will cause the machine to be jammed
  • They will cause large loads to be contaminated
  • They are a mixture of materials

I’m sure you all don’t want this to happen, so here are some handy tips to follow:

  • Make sure everything is as clean as possible! This way, you don’t run the risk of contaminating anything.
  • Make sure everything is large enough to be recycled!
  • Check against state guidelines. Every state has different guidelines, so it’s important to check what your local centers do and don’t accept. Also, if you can’t throw something in your recycling bin but it is still recyclable, try to find a local program that accepts it!
  • If you’re ever unsure about whether something is recyclable,just trash it. But, you could also check out how2recycle.info, they are a great resource!

For more information on the things I discussed, check out the following graphic organizer the local non-profit I volunteered with created here.

That’s all for today, hopefully you learned something new! See you all next time!

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