Wishcycling: You can’t wish your waste away

Day 127 – I am guilty of placing things in my recycling bin, not really knowing if they can be recycled or not. I hope they can and figure the people at the recycling center can make the call. However, there is a real problem when you rely on wishful thinking to recycle your waste.

This post will outline what the City of Chicago accepts in their blue bins. Personally, I have lost faith in the Chicago recycling program and have started going to an independent recycler. There, I drop off my accepted and sorted recyclables. If it’s at all possible for you, I highly recommend you find a company or organization that collects recyclables. The likelihood of these items being recycled is greater than using your blue bin. I have heard of churches collecting paper and cardboard. Scrap yards will collect your metals, like aluminum.

Only these items should be placed in your blue bin:

  1. Food and beverage cartons – Orange juice cartons, milk cartons, juice boxes (not pouches). Empty carton and replace the cap.
  2. Aluminum and steel cans – Pop cans, cans that store vegetables and other non-perishables – Clean out cans. Place lids of can inside the can. The smaller the item, the harder it is to properly sort.
  3. Glass bottle and jars – Empty and clean bottles and jars.
  4. Paper – Mixed Paper, mail, newspaper, magazines and flattened, clean cardboard.
  5. Plastic – Milk jugs, shampoo bottles, laundry detergent bottles, food containers (like sour cream and spreadable butter)

Let’s talk more about plastic. This category becomes the most confusing. When you see a number with the chasing arrows on your packaging, it does not always mean that it is recyclable. All this is telling you is the type of plastic you have.

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. soda bottles
  2. water bottles
  3. salad dressing containers
  4. mouthwash bottles
  5. peanut butter containers

This plastic is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. milk jugs
  2. household cleaner containers
  3. juice bottles
  4. shampoo bottles
  5. detergent bottles
  6. butter tubs
  7. yogurt containers

This plastic is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl) – Only detergent & shampoo bottles & rigid clear food packaging accepted curbside

  1. food wrap
  2. plumbing pipes
  3. detergent bottles
  4. shampoo bottles
  5. clear food packaging
  6. cooking oil bottles

This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) – NONE of these are accepted curbside

  1. squeezable bottles
  2. shopping bags
  3. clothing, carpet
  4. frozen food bags
  5. bread bags
  6. some food wraps

This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. yogurt containers
  2. ketchup bottles
  3. syrup bottles
  4. medicine bottles

Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene) – NOT accepted curbside

  1. foam egg cartons
  2. foam plates and cups
  3. anything considered styrofoam

It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous – NOT accepted curbside

  1. All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category
  2. sunglasses
  3. iPod cases
  4. computer cases

It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

These things should never go into your blue bin.

  1. No plastic bags or wraps. Even the blue bags made for recyclables.
  2. No food or liquid
  3. No scrap metal
  4. No hoses, cords or chains

This list could go on and on. There is a lot more that can not go in your blue bin than can go in. If you end up putting something in your blue bin that is not recyclable, you run the risk of contaminating your entire bin. If this happens, it will all end up in the landfill.

The City of Chicago created an A-Z list for items and if they are recyclable. I am currently in the process of making my own list with resources are know are up to date. I can not say the same for the city’s list, but it is a good start.

Click HERE for a picture guide of recyclable items accepted by the City of Chicago.

Ultimately, we have to cut down on the amount of waste we are producing. The market for recyclables is shrinking and we are beginning to run out of places to put stuff. As a society, we need to move to a circular economy if we are to survive and not be buried under our own garbage.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this video created by NPR. It explains the complicated business of recycling and the idea of wishcycling.

Is Recycling Worth It Anymore? People On The Front Lines Say Maybe Not

Tomorrow, the donation centers do not want your broken stuff.

Plastic Bags: They’re still here

Day 8– It’s crazy to think that the inventor of the plastic bag, Swedish engineer, Sten Gustaf Thulin, created them in 1959 to save the planet. The bags were developed as an alternative to paper bags, which were considered bad because they resulted in trees being chopped down. Fast forward 62 years and they are not saving the planet, but causing extreme damage to the environment.

Eight states have banned the use of plastic bags – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Fourteen other states have adopted laws to protect the use of plastic bags. A Politico article, written in January 2020, explains why plastic bags are not going anywhere, anytime soon. It all comes down to money. Making plastic bags is a big business and those involved in their production are making sure they stick around, even though they are harmful to the environment.

In Chicago, there is no ban, but a fee is applied to your purchase when accepting a plastic bag. Most of us bring along our reusable shopping bags on our trips to the store to avoid using the plastic bags. However, it seems almost impossible to keep these plastic bags out of your household, no matter how hard you try. They find there way in, oneway or another. This pandemic has made it even harder to avoid them. Many stores are not allowing your reusable bags from home.

So, what to do with those plastic bags? Some will use them to line their waste baskets at home or use them to pick up their pet’s waste. The unfortunate thing with those uses is that they end up in a landfill, where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Another option is to drop them off at a plastic bag recycling kiosks. Many stores offer these drop-offs. My go to places are Target and Jewel.

It appears that these programs are legitimate. However, the success of the program depends on the actions of each store and their handling of the plastic bags. I would like to think that these companies are doing the right thing and providing a program that does exactly what it says it will do, recycle plastic bags.

Did you know those plastic bag kiosks except more than just grocery store plastic bags? Here is everything they except:

  1. Paper towel / Toilet Paper plastic bags
  2. Bread Bags
  3. Air Pillows (plenty of these arrive in my Amazon purchases)
  4. Case wrapping (water bottles, Gatorde, etc)
  5. Food Storage Bags (sandwich, storage and freezer bags)
  6. Produce bags
  7. Shopping bags
  8. Plastic shipping envelopes (remove labels)
  9. Cereal box bags
  10. Anything with How2Recycle Label stating plastic bag

Between the composting and keeping a lot of these plastic bags out of the garbage, we have reduced our household waste immensely. We went from two garbage bags a week, to one bag, every 9-10 days. Not too bad, but I know we can do better. I keep a bag under the kitchen sink where all our plastic bags (of all kinds) end up. Once, I have plenty collected I drop them off on my next visit to Target or the grocery store.

It’s great that these programs exist, but ultimately we need to find ways to avoid these plastic bags. Throughout this year, I will discuss how my family is making changes to keep these bags, in whatever form, out of our house.

Tomorrow, we’ll look a little closer at how2recycle and how their labels are taking the guess work out of recycling.

Single-Stream Recycling: It just doesn’t work

Day 6 “For those of us who spent most of our lives painstakingly separating plastic, glass, paper and metal, single-stream recycling is easy to love. No longer must we labor. Gone is the struggle to store two, three, four or even five different bags under the kitchen sink. Just throw everything into one dumpster, season liberally with hopes and dreams, and serve it up to your local trash collector. What better way to save the planet?”

This is the opening paragraph in an article written by Maggie Koerth for FiveThirtyEight. The article goes on to describe a program that no longer works. Too many contaminated recyclables ending up in the landfill and a change in China’s standard for accepting contaminated recyclables has completely changed the game.

Chicago’s use of the single-stream recycling process is just part of their overall recycling problem. In comparison, the Resource Center separates all their recyclables, reducing the potential for contamination. The key to their success is for those participating in their program to follow the directions and to only drop off items allowed. Placing non-recyclable items in the designated bins is damaging to the program.

So, knowing I needed numerous containers, I got myself to Target and picked up three garbage cans ($10 each). I labeled them (1) plastic (2) glass (3) tin / metal. I also took a large storage bin and labeled it (4) cardboard. Lastly, I took two waste baskets and labeled them (5) paper and (6) aluminum. It quickly becomes clear that a large amount of our recyclables are cardboard and plastic. The plan is to visit the Resource Center twice a month. The tin and glass containers will not need to be emptied as frequently. There’s another plan for the aluminum (to be discussed tomorrow).

In a couple days I will be discussing the 47th Ward’s Green Council. However, I wanted to notify you (if you happen to be a resident of the 47th Ward) of an upcoming meeting, tomorrow, January 7th @ 6:30pm. You can register HERE.

Tomorrow, I’ll reveal the hot new item in our household that is a total flashback to my childhood.

Chicago Recycling: We can do better!

Day 4 – Filling our designated indoor recycle container twice a week and bringing it out to the blue bin has been our practice for years. We thought we were helping and making a difference. Little did we know that it was not making a big impact, or any kind of impact, for that matter. I knew Chicago’s recycling program was not great, but I was definitely in denial as to how bad it really was. As I dug a little deeper, I found that Chicago ranks as the worst major city in the United States for recycling rates in residential areas, with less than 9 percent of waste being recycled. The program is beyond flawed and the solutions do not seem easy to correct.

If you want to read the Better Government Association‘s report on Chicago’s recycling program, click HERE.

So, I was on a mission to find other options. I found a plethora of organizations that will recycle a variety of hard to recycle items. However, it took a little extra digging to find a place that will except my blue bin recyclables. I came across the Resource Center and their North Park Village drop-off location was not too far from home.

North Park Village Recycling Station – 5801 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60646 (Hours: 10am-4pm daily)

They accept cardboard and food packaging (made from cardboard), newspapers, magazines, white paper, office paper and shredded paper, metal (tin cans), aluminum, brown and yellow glass, green and blue glass, clear glass (no windows, drinking glasses, nothing “treated”), plastics #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #7.

In future posts, I’ll discuss the need to find other options and not depend on recycling programs. However, for now, I have found a partner and it’s time to get my recyclables in order!

Tomorrow, holiday cards and their afterlife.