What? That’s not recyclable? But I thought . . . You thought wrong

Apr 15, 2021, 1:13 PM | Updated: 1:13 pm
recycling symbol recyclable items...
(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — There are things you obviously can’t recycle (dishes), things you obviously can and should (paper, duh) and — “What? That’s not recyclable?”

To recycle or not to recycle

About 258 million tons of trash end up in US landfills each year, but only 89 million tons of material are recycled and composted. That 89 million tons is comparable to the annual emissions from more than 38 million passenger cars.

Keep on recycling! Move that tonnage up and up.

There is a landfill of rules when it comes to what can and can’t be recycled.

Here are common items that look like they should be recyclable but, oddly, are not. 

The sad saga of the not-so-recyclable plastic hanger

Unfortunately, plastic hangers are hard to sell for many recyclers. Why? They can clog machinery because of their size and unique shape. You should never put hangers in your recycling bin.

Think upcycling instead

Fortunately, rather than just hanging your clothes, you can create many useful tools and crafts. Like what? OK, how about a cheap paper towel dispenser. 13 Amazing Ways to Create Crafts With Plastic Hangers

Wire hangers have a thin plastic coating to keep them from rusting, so check with your local solid waste recyclers to see if they take them. (If not, your neighborhood dry cleaner would love to have them.)

My local dry cleaning shop won’t accept plastic hangers. She also didn’t know of any dry cleaning business, anywhere, that will take plastic hangers.

“We just throw them away,” she said, pleasantly.

But she said most dry cleaners will take back the plastic that wraps your freshly dry-cleaned garment.

Plastic straws can kill

Most recycling facilities do not accept plastic straws. Non-recyclable, straws are flexible and can fall between the cracks of machinery or get stuck in machinery. 

Also, straws kill animals. 

Marine biologist Christine Figgener filmed her team removing a plastic straw stuck in a sea turtle’s nose in 2015. She said she had no idea how much it would resonate around the world. Nearly three years later, the video would help galvanize a larger movement, which now includes companies like Starbucks and American Airlines, to get rid of plastic straws from our daily lives. Read the rest of the story here.

Styrofoam does not go curbside

According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality:

Styrofoam is not processed through local recycling efforts. It should be sorted and dropped off to a third-party. Marko Foam Products in Salt Lake takes and recycles Styrofoam. They ask that Styrofoam be free of any contaminates or labels. 

Bubble wrap, pop, no

Bubble wrap is usually made from a film plastic called low-density polyethylene #4 (LDPE). Solid or rigid forms of #4 plastics, like containers, are often accepted in curbside recycle programs.

But film plastics are not accepted because they — like plastic bags — tangle and clog the recycling sorting machines. Throw it in the garbage instead of the recycling bin. You can save the unpopped bubble wrap to reuse for future shipping and packing. You can also recycle bubble wrap separately at your local grocery stores.

Light bulbs: on/off

Incandescent and halogen bulbs don’t contain toxic chemicals, so they can go in with the regular trash, according to Utah DEQ.

(Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs) CFL bulbs, right, use far less energy than incandescent bulbs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, CFLs contain mercury. A broken CFL bulb can damage the environment if it enter landfills or the water supply.

Most home-improvement stores and recycling centers accept old CFL bulbs. Home Depot does — so does Lowe’s. If you break a CFL, air out the room for 15 minutes.

LED bulbs don’t contain mercury and they are just as energy-efficient. LEDs are made of non-renewable materials like glass and aluminum. LED lights can be disposed of in a regular trash bin.

Plastic bags? Non-recyclable

But you can recycle paper bags. 

Don’t toss plastic bags in your curbside bin as they cause headaches for recycling companies and sanitation workers.

Plastic bags and items made from their plastic material, such as shrink wrap, bubble wrap, plastic bags, newspaper bags and trash bags, are the worst recycling contaminator of all.

Instead, most grocery stores provide containers to collect used bags for recycling. Next time you head to your local grocery stores, take them along. It’s not like they’re heavy.

Recyclable glass: Half full/half empty 

Only glass from bottles, not vases, cookware or windows, can be recycled, according to Utah DEQ. Something about different melting points. 

Glass isn’t allowed in your general recycling bins.

If you live in Salt Lake City, sign up online curbside glass collection with your water bill account number, call Momentum Recycling at (801) 355-0334 or take your glass to a drop-off location in Utah.

Cartons can be recycled but . . .

Milk cartons don’t belong in the paper bin.

They a thin layer of polyethylene — plastic. Cartons contain a layer of aluminum. Recycle milk cartons with plastic, metal and glass containers

Recycled cartons can be transformed into new paper products and eco-friendly building materials rather than fill up in a landfill, according to Carton Council.

It further advises to NOT flatten the cartoon, just toss it  into the recycling bin along with other recyclables such as cans, plastic and bottles.

Unflattened cartons are easier to spot for the sorters at recycling facilities 

You don’t need to rinse out cartons before recycling, seriously.

Keep the cap on the carton. If it has a straw, push it back into the carton before recycling.

Where does my carton go after I drop it in the recycle bin? Watch.

Think you know all about recycling? OK, try this quiz,* smarty pants!


* Our thanks to University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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What? That’s not recyclable? But I thought . . . You thought wrong