These days the majority of people in our state and our country try to recycle. We recycle at home, at school and at work. Yet a lot of things that could be recycled still end up in landfills. Entire loads of recyclables can be CONTAMINATED by trash, food and other items that should not go into the recycling bin.

Not so long ago, folks separated their recyclable items and put them into small bins. Now you can put almost everything that you and your family recycle into a big curbside bin—but there are some important exceptions and rules to follow. The bigger recycle bins encourage more people to recycle, but that can also lead to some unwanted items in the bins.

“We would like everybody to recycle more, but we’d like them to recycle it right,” says Sherri Ludlam, environmental scientist with the City of Tucson Environmental Services Department.

Sadly, some slobs want to throw EVERYTHING into ANY bin! They put trash, old food, and gross or even dangerous stuff into recycling bins. Ludlam says that while most recycling collection facilities are automated, there are still human workers to consider.

There are not just machines but people who separate materials, Ludlam says, and they should not have to deal with containers with moldy food! Besides the major “ick” factor, oils and greases can also pose a danger, says Ludlam, as they can cause a chemical reaction and even catch fire.

“Respect the people who have to handle the recyclables,” she advises. Do this by putting clean, dry items in your recycling bin. Empty containers before recycling them—rinse and air dry if needed. If your used pizza box is greasy, you can cut the clean top off and recycle it, but put the oily parts in the trash. NEVER put garbage into the recycling bin.

Some unwanted things end up in the recycling bin—even though they shouldn’t—not through messiness or MALICE, but rather because people are honestly trying to recycle as much as they can. But some stuff isn’t accepted by most recycling programs. Do not put these items in the bin: plastic bags, Styrofoam cups/containers, straws, light bulbs, packing material, ceramic or glass dinnerware, wire clothes hangers, wires, old hoses, batteries or clothing. Some of these things can still be recycled in other ways, for example many grocery stores now have bins at the entrance to collect plastic bags.

Things that cannot go into the curbside bin may still have new life outside of the landfill. There are stores and companies that accept and recycle things like batteries, light bulbs and Styrofoam blocks. Clothing can usually be donated. Some cities have special collection dates and locations for old electronics and appliances. 

If you have questions about what items you can or cannot recycle, contact your local recycling program. Visit the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality website at Azdeq.gov or go to Azdeq.gov to find the program near you. You also can check out Recyclecleanphoenix.org for more tips on how to do recycling right.

To make the most out of what we recycle, “we should be making sure we put the right things in the right containers,” says Ludlam, “and handle our waste the right way.”

Holiday Recycling:

Cardboard and paperboard boxes can go into recycling bins. So can holiday cards and envelopes, but not the ones printed on photo paper. Some, but not all, city programs will take wrapping paper—even brightly colored papers, but not metallic papers or paper with foil or glitter.

After the holiday meal, put plastic cups into recycling. Put napkins into the trash or a compost bin. If your cousin broke a plate or drinking glass, wrap the pieces and put them in the trash. But if someone breaks a plastic chair, if you can fit it in the bin you can recycle it!

Trees and wreaths can be dropped off for recycling at several Phoenix parks between Dec. 26 and Jan. 7, 2018. Be sure to remove all lights, decorations, tinsel and the tree stand! Do not wrap the tree.

Drop off locations include:

Deer Valley Park, Paradise Valley Park, Sereno Park, Cactus Park Mountain View, Marivue Park, Washington Park, Madison Park, Los Olivos Park, Desert West Park, El Reposo Park, Mountain Vista Park, Desert Foothills Park and Cesar Chavez Park. For more details, visit Phoenix.gov.

A New Way of Recycling

Some things have changed in the world of recycling. Once upon a time, you needed to remove lids from bottles and jars, but no more! Leave them on bottles, jars and cartons. Some rigid plastics and numbers higher than #1 and #2 used to be no-nos. Not now. Plastics from #1 to #7 can go in the recycling bin—just leave out the plastic bags and Styrofoam.

Do not bag your recyclables. Bags and wires can wrap around the equipment that sorts and processes, jamming the machine. Only shredded paper should be bagged—in a clear bag, not an OPAQUE grocery bag.

Boomer's Handy Dandy Guide to Recycling -- right-click to download and print!

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