PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – So you thought you were doing the right thing by sorting your recyclables and putting them out on the curb, but are you doing it correctly?
The truth is some things that used to be trash can now be recycled, and not everything people think can be recycled actually can.
KDKA’s David Highfield went to Waste Management’s recycling plant on Neville Island to get some answers.
First – do you need to separate your paper and plastic recyclables? The answer is – not anymore.
“We actually prefer it mixed,” Scott Dellinger, of Waste Management, said. “When we get a nice blended mix of material coming in from curbside, our system is designed to separate and sort it.”
Milk and juice cartons are recyclable, as well.
“People believe they’re wax-coated because 20 years ago, someone said they were wax-coated.”
But, they’re not, so put them in!
What about glossy magazines? Back in the day, they would tell you, “No, don’t put these in,’” right?
But now, magazines, newspapers, inserts and phone books are okay to recycle. Dellinger says a good rule of thumb is if it tears, put it in.
He showed Highfield how paper is sorted in the plant. An optical scanner figures out what kind of paper is coming down the belt, and anything that’s not newspaper gets a little burst of air so it floats up and falls into a different bin.
But, they say campaign signs are a real danger here.
“That wire tends to go past our sorter’s face, and it really puts them in harm’s way. Don’t put that in our stream,” he said.
Other big no-nos are VHS tapes, garden hoses and extension cords, which all foul up the machinery.
When it comes to water bottles, the bottles themselves are recyclable, but the cap by itself is too small in the plant.
“We don’t want anything smaller than two inches in size because it won’t go in the correct location,” he said.
But Dellinger says you can include the cap if you crush the bottle until it’s flat and secure the cap tightly, so there’s no chance of the cap becoming loose.
The two-inch rule means wine corks are a no-no, too. Glass is the only exception.
Some websites tell you aluminum foil is recyclable if you clean it off, but Dellinger says while they love aluminum cans, he’d rather not have foil.
Speaking of cleaning, how clean does something need to be?
Dellinger says it doesn’t have to be crystal clear, but try to get most of the food out. And lids will crack and break apart, so don’t include those either.
Don’t bother taking labels off because they’re now designed to come off in the recycling process.
You might have heard don’t put pizza boxes in, but it’s not that Waste Management doesn’t want the cardboard.
“People leave the pizza in there, they leave the crust in there, they leave the little white wrapper.”
He says empty it out first and rip off any cardboard that’s particularly greasy.
Speaking of cardboard, toilet paper rolls are recyclable, too.
Just because something is plastic doesn’t mean Dellinger wants it either. While margarine and yogurt tubs are great, plastic straws and coffee stirs actually get a thumbs down.
“It’s plastic, it’s theoretically recyclable,” Dellinger said. “But, what happens is because of the shape, it goes where it doesn’t belong.”
Finally, let’s talk about Styrofoam cups and clamshell food containers.
While you should not include it with your regular recyclables, there is a place on the South Side that will take the solid Styrofoam used in packaging. But aside from mail-in programs, it’s hard to find anyone in our area who wants your old Styrofoam coffee cups.
And while the majority of recyclables in our area go to the plant we visited, the way things are collected can be different, so you should check to see what kind of rules your community has.
For more information on places where you can take things that are harder to recycle, visit the links below:
- Allegheny County Health Department (PDF)
- Giant Eagle Recycling
- Zero Waste Pittsburgh Hard to Recycle Resources
- Zero Waste Pittsburgh Recycling Resources
- Construction Junction
- Good Housekeeping
- Recycling Styrofoam