Ready to learn more about Recycling? Confused about what to put in your Big Blue Recycling Bin? We′ve got you covered! Get the answers you′re looking for, then just for fun, take a quiz to test your smarts!
After you place materials in a recycling bin, either at a business or at residential curbside, recycling trucks come and pick up the materials. Mixed recycling is compressed in the truck and glass and other special materials are stored separately.
The recycling trucks dump the glass and special materials in specific areas at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are picked up by the companies that will process them into sellable recycled material. The mixed recycling is dumped on the sort floor and piled onto conveyor belts.
On the conveyor belt
First is a belt of large spinning gears that sort out large pieces of cardboard while the rest of the material falls through to lines below based on the size of material. Workers pull off contaminants and specific recyclables. A magnet pulls out small metals and a back eddy sorts out the aluminum cans. Along the line, plastic bottles, plastic jugs, paper, and cans are piled together and compressed into bales. These bales are then shipped to local recyclers or buyers around the world who process the raw material into a substance that can be sold to manufacturers and producers to make new products.
Recyclables are sorted by hand
Our system relies on the sharp eyes and fast hands of our sorters, so it is important to keep them safe by only recycling the accepted materials. If a material has a recycling symbol on it, it may still not be accepted in the curbside collection. We sort based on size and shape. Anything flat will be sorted into paper or cardboard so please keep out small scraps of plastic and metal, like lids and caps, unless they are securely fastened to the bottle. For plastics, don’t look for a number, look at the shape: if it is a bottle, jug, or tub, it is acceptable for curbside recycling. There may be other recycling options beyond the curb for certain materials, but these are separate from the curbside system.
You have an important role in keeping our recycled material high quality by recycling right and eliminating contaminants.
1. Paper Coffee Cups
Soiled paper contaminated by food and liquids should not be recycled. Additionally, paper coffee cups often have a plastic or wax lining making them non-recyclable and non-compostable. You can reduce this waste by using a reusable coffee cup!
2. Freezer boxes
Any type of paper packaging that goes in the freezer or fridge is wet-strength packaging that has a chemical composition to make it more durable and preserve food, but it is not recyclable. Most common are microwave dinner boxes, butter stick boxes, etcetera.
3. Plastic Drink Cups
Plastic drink cups get smashed during the collection and are difficult to sort out of the mixed recycling. Additionally, you commonly see this material as litter along the road which pollutes the environment. You can reduce this waste by using reusable cups and straws!
4. Plastic lids
Whether plastic or metal, they may end up being sorted into paper bales because they are small and flat. Place metal lids in the can and crimp the lid so that it doesn’t fall out. Screw plastic bottle caps on securely. Discard snap on lids in the trash.
5. Plastic clamshell
Plastic clamshells are very common in stores and as take out containers. They often have a hinged lid and are composed of a brittle, clear plastic that shatters into pieces during the sorting process. This material is a challenge to recycle and is not currently accepted by any known local recyclers. Consider buying products in packaging that you know is recyclable to reduce waste.
6. Plastic film/bag
Plastic bags and other thin, stretchy plastic films and wraps get tangled in the sorting equipment and cause the line to shut down while it’s cut out of the equipment by hand. However, there are recycling options for this material at your local Safeway, Albertson, Fred Meyer and other grocery stores participating in the WRAP program.
Styrofoam cups and take out containers belong in the trash. Packing peanuts can be reused for packing and mailing and may be accepted by local post offices. Block foam can be dropped off at Central Transfer & Recycling Center (11034 NE 117th Ave, Vancouver, WA). Agilyx in Tigard, Oregon accepts any #6 polystyrene material in their drop off bins but these materials should never go in your curbside recycling in Clark County.
8. Pizza Boxes
Any paper or cardboard that is soiled with food or grease is not recyclable. Consider composting these materials with your food waste.
Keeping the mixed recycling dry and clean is especially important for the quality of the recycling. Make sure that you empty your containers of food before recycling. Food scraps or soiled paper products are great for composting!
Clothes are a good resource that can be reused or repurposed. Donate these items to charities or thrift stores if they are in good condition or get crafty and create something out of old fabric scraps. Textiles and clothing should never go in your recycling cart.
11. Tangly items
Items such as hoses, wire hangers, ribbons, and other long, stringy materials can get caught in the sorting equipment and cause the line to shut down while the waste materials are removed by hand.
12. Shredded Paper
Shredded paper is too small and is lost during the sorting. It is possible to contain shredded paper in a paper bag (never a plastic bag), but there is no guarantee that it will not break open during transportation and sorting. Best practice is to drop shredded paper off directly to the transfer station or use a paper shredding company (companies may have fees).
It may seem obvious that diapers, especially dirty diapers, should not go in the recycling bin, but we still see them coming down the sort line. Please keep all human and pet wastes and non-recyclables out of the recycling cart. It is especially unsanitary for our workers who sort on the line by hand.