See if you know some of these recycling rules. We'll be adding to the list over time. The answers, regardless of whether you are correct, will give more information.
What to recycle and what not to recycle ─ it's confusing
You've been living off the grid if you haven't heard that many restaurants are not automatically giving customers plastic drinking straws. Those straws are the latest thing people want to keep out of landfills.
And a landfill is where they would go, because you can't recycle them.
You want to make sure you're recycling all that you can, but recycling can be tricky.
Because here's the thing: If enough contaminants are in the load of recycling that aren’t easily and quickly removed, the entire load could end up in a landfill.
It is important to learn the recycling rules for your area so you aren’t contributing to the high rate of contamination.
And if you're thinking recycling is too complicated, simplify it.
Recycle the most important and cost-effective items and don't worry about the rest:
- Cans ─ soda, soup, other cans (empty, clean and dry is the rule for all recycling) and you can leave the labels on
- Plastic ─ water bottles, other drink bottles, clamshell fruit or take-out containers, rigid plastic like detergent bottles
- Paper ─ junk mail (plastic windows on envelopes are fine), newspapers, office paper, shredded paper (in clear plastic bags for much of the area) and cardboard
Can you recycle yard trimmings, like grass, leaves and twigs?
Can those street-corner political signs and dog food bags be recycled?
Can you recycle Styrofoam, plastic foam and bubble wrap?
Can you recycle take-out coffee cups and fast-food cups?
Is it OK to put this glass jar in curbside recycling?
Is it OK to put a glass bowl in your curbside recycling?
Is it OK to put batteries in your curbside recycling?
Is it OK to put a plastic Gatorade bottle in curbside recycling?
Is it OK to put empty vegetable or soup cans in curbside recycling?
Is it OK to recycle this phone book with curbside recycling?
Is it OK to put this plastic grocery bag in your curbside recycling?
Can you put these empty lotion bottles in curbside recycling?
Can you recycle milk, juice or egg-white cartons curbside?
Is it OK to put aluminum foil in your curbside recycling?
Can this plastic lunch meat container go in curbside recycling?
Is it OK to recycle a cardboard cereal or pasta box?
Is it OK to put a magazine in your curbside recycling?
Is recycling cost effective?
This isn't presented as a quiz question because it's something each person must decide.
The cost effectiveness of recycling is mostly in the energy saved. It takes less energy to make products from recycled materials than to produce them from the raw materials.
According to the Waste management website at wm.com/thinkgreen, recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for two or three hours. It takes less energy to make new aluminum cans from recycled aluminum ingots than to refine aluminum from the bauxite ore it comes from. Bauxite is mostly imported, an additional expense.
Recycling steel cans, like those used for canned foods, saves 75 percent of the energy it takes to create steel from raw materials.
There's a reason people say to recycle paper and save the trees. According to Waste Management, Recycling 500 average phone books could save between 17 and 31 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution, 4,077 kilowatt hours of energy and landfill space.
Yes, recycling is cost effective as long as it is done thoughtfully. Paper should be dry, food cans should be rinsed out and oily cardboard like pizza boxes should be kept out of the recycling bin.
You may wonder if the water use to clean out jars or bottles is worth it. After all we live in the desert. However, you can be smart about this.
You can wash out food containers when you're doing the dishes. Most could go on the top rack of your dishwasher. If you do dishes by hand, clean them out in the dishwater in your sink after you've done the other dishes. Rinse quickly. Some people fill the second sink with rinse water. You wouldn't be using any extra this way.
If it would take a lot of water to clean something out ─ perhaps something really greasy or thick ─ you may decide it isn't worth the water use.
In the end, you must decide for yourself.
What is contamination?
Contamination is anything put in the recycling bin or barrel that can't be recycled here.
That includes food particles left in containers, plastic bottles with liquid left in them, oily pizza boxes, dirty soup cans and lunch take-out containers that weren't washed. It also includes Styrofoam or plastic foam, plastic bags, plastic straws, batteries ─ they can't go in curbside recycling but must be recycled separately ─ fast food drink cups, heat resistant glass and many other things.
If enough contaminants are in the load of recycling that they aren't easily and quickly removed, the entire load could end up in a landfill.
It is important to learn the recycling rules for your area so you aren't contributing to the high rate of contamination. We'll share a list at the end of this series.
For Tucson recycling, how small is too small?
We have been told that anything smaller than a tennis ball shouldn't go in your recycling bin because items that small can fall through the machinery at the plant.
Judging by the emails received about this column, many people don't have tennis balls lying around the house. So we did some measuring.
The circumference of a standard tennis ball is roughly 8.75 inches. Divide that by π (3.14) and the result is 2.79 inches, the diameter of the tennis ball.
Anything that is smaller than 2.79 inches or 2 13/16 inches is too small. Another way to think about this is anything that would fit through a hole 2.8 inches wide (allowing a tiny margin of error) is too small. If it won't fit through one way, but will fit through another way, it's too small for the recycling plant machinery.
This does not include water bottles, soda bottles and smaller soda cans. They won't bounce through a hole that size even if you can get it through manually. Recycle these.
Don't recycle pill bottles, bottle caps that aren't well attached to their plastic bottles or really small cans.
What is Household Hazardous Waste and what should we do with it?
Household hazardous waste includes automotive fluids, auto batteries, rechargeable, lithium and button batteries; solvents, cooking oil, chemicals for pools, gardening and pest control; propane cylinders and anything labeled as dangerous or toxic.
You can drop these off at 2440 W. Sweetwater Drive, from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Fridays only; or the Los Reales Landfill, 5300 E. Los Reales Road, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Drop-off is free if you are a Tucson resident. Those living outside the Tucson city limits will be charged a $10 fee. More information is available at tucsonaz.gov/es/household-hazardous-waste
These sites do not accept commercial hazardous waste or medical waste, but there are links to more information at the above address online.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
We've all seen that three-arrow triangle that we often take to mean something is recyclable. But what does it actually mean?
It means "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." It's how we save our natural resources.
Recycling is good. It saves energy and resources. But recycling has company in that triangle.
The first thing we can do to save our resources is to reduce their use. Use fewer disposable items. We are a consumer culture so this is hard for us.
That means using stainless steel or some other type of reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones. It means drinking without a straw at a restaurant or bringing along your own reusable straw.
Reduce the use of plastic grocery bags by using cloth bags at the store.
The next thing to do is reuse. Use your old plastic pill bottles for storing nails or take them to Pima Animal Care Center ─ clean and without labels ─ for them to reuse.
Crafters are particularly good at reusing things that normally get thrown away.
Many moving companies will take your moving boxes if they are still in good shape. They can be used again ─ perhaps more than once or twice ─ before they are recycled.
Recycle what you can, but wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to recycle so much or throw so much away because we didn't use so much?