Not sure if something is recyclable? Just ask

Environment

You're probably recycling wrong

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — We all like to do our part and recycle. But, guess what? You’re probably doing it wrong.

The Far West Recycling Plant in Hillsboro is in constant motion with workers sorting between 220 and 250 tons of materials every day. But, before it reaches the plant, it’s in your own bin. It turns out a lot of recycling customers are putting the wrong stuff in the recycle bin.

“Any caps or lids like milk jugs, detergents, that sort of thing — those are garbage,” said Peggy LaPoint, a Metro Recycling Specialist.

Non-recyclable items such as bottle caps, drink cups and an Eggo box. (KOIN)

For example, bottle caps and lids need to go in the trash along with any frozen food boxes — like the ones Eggo Waffles come in.

“There’s plastic embedded in there, and that’s what holds the liquid in. The freezer boxes have a similar sort of plastic embedded in them and that’s to protect them from freezer burn.”

Metro has set up a “Recycle or Not” Instagram page under that same name. You can send pictures of items you’re not sure about, and someone on staff will get back to you and let you know whether to toss it or recycle it.

“Oregonians love the environment, they love to recycle — but unfortunately, they’re putting garbage in the recycling bin and that’s harmful,” said Peggy.

Other commonly found items in recycling bins that shouldn’t be there:

A list of non-recyclable items. (KOIN)

In Far West’s case, it’s harmful because they’re having to haul away about 10 tons of materials every day to the landfill that can’t be recycled.

“It doesn’t take long to find something that shouldn’t be in there,” said Vinod Singh from Far West Recycling as he pointed out a broken chair. “This is garbage. One thing we like to tell people [is] the most expensive way to throw something away is to put it in the recycling bin.”

Not only are employees having to make sure non-recyclables are in the correct bin, but the materials that do end up in the wrong place mess with the equipment. When plastic film wraps around spinning separators, it gets tangled, leading to workers having to go in and manually remove it before it clogs the machines.

This is something that workers deal with each day, after every couple of hours.

Pile of materials at the Far West Recycling Plant. (KOIN)

Singh tells us plastic film is the biggest culprit when it comes to what the workers watch for on the conveyor belt. Other, less sanitary things such as meat even find their way into the plant.

He also said batteries have become a huge issue, with many actually starting fires in the facility over the years.

“Batteries are a rising concern for us because one little lithium battery can start a fire, and as you saw, we have a ton of paper — if that were to catch fire and not be caught, you could potentially destroy a building and endanger lives,” he said.

The bottom line comes down to this: if you’re not sure — ask if it should go in your recycling bin.

The more garbage that ends up at these recycling plants, the more it costs to get rid of it. That expense will eventually be passed along to you, the recycling customer.

Resources for handling hard-to-recycle items:

Columbia Rethreads: Give your old clothes a new life
Nike GRIND: Turning limited resources into limitless potential
Plastic Film Recycling: Find recycling centers that accept plastic bags and film packaging
Oregon Metro: Find a recycler
Oregon Metro: @RecycleOrNot Instagram

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