Can you recycle that?

By Kate Whitbeck

The dos and don’ts of household recycling, item by item. This month: milk jugs.

You stand at the recycle bin, waste item in hand Do you stick it in and hope they can recycle it? You know they used to be able to take it. But things have changed. You heard on the news that China has stopped taking so many materials. If you throw it in the recycle bin, will you contaminate the whole load?

This shouldn’t be the hardest choice you make all day. But for someone who cares about recycling, and reducing their impact on the environment, and making conscientious choices about consumption, knowing what can and can’t go into the blue bin has become an ever increasingly frustrating exercise.

Fortunately, CATALYST has heard your cries for help and secured experts to answer all those nagging questions. No more aspirational recycling (throwing items into the recycle bin and thinking they should be recyclable). Just the facts, in black and white, based on an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of your local recycling sorting facility, aka material recovery facility ( MRF).

Kate Whitbeck is a founder and owner of Momentum Recycling in Salt Lake City, a full-service zero waste company offering comprehensive recycling collection services to organizations and residences along the Wasatch Front. She spent six years on the Board of the Utah Recycling Alliance, including a year as board president. She remains passionate about zero waste and strives every day to make conscientious decisions about reducing the impact of her family of five (including dog) on the environment.

Plastic milk jugs

Flip the container upside down and look for the chasing arrow symbol with a number in the center on the bottom of the jug. This is the resin code #2 HDPE—High Density Polyethylene. Fortunately, this is still an accepted item at all recycling facilities in the Salt Lake Valley. It does have to be empty, clean and dry. No need to remove the labels, that is done in the recycling process.

Lids can be on or off. It is not considered contamination to keep the lids on.  However, if you leave the lids off, they will not be captured by the sorting equipment and will be disposed of as “residue” or contamination at the landfill.  Lids tend to be #5—polypropylene.

One note about resin codes is explained in detail in site. In the past,  the recycling sorting facilities said they could take all plastics numbers 1-7. You simply had to look for the chasing arrow symbol on your product or packaging and could feel confident that if there was a 1-7, it could go into your blue bin. However, each sorting facility has to decide what they can and can’t accept based on the availability of markets, and the cost of getting the materials to those markets.

Historically, China has been the destination for much of the plastic that is collected for recycling purposes in the United States. However, over the past six years, China has introduced policies and practices to increase the quality and reduce the quantity of materials coming from the U.S. This has been both an effort to stop importing heavily contaminated materials, and help support the development of their domestic industry.

This has forced sorting facilities to get serious about contamination and restrict the types of materials they accept to those that they are confident they can sell.

Bottom line: We need to relearn what we can put in our blue bin.

This article was originally published on September 30, 2018.