Finally, your burning recycling questions answered! Have a question about recycling?

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Why do most plastics have a recycling symbol on them, if only some of them are actually recyclable?

The recycling symbol with the number inside is the way the plastics industry identifies what type of plastic an item is made out of.  They tell us about it’s past, not its future.  Some communities decide what plastics they accept based on the number.  Here in Deschutes County, we recycle plastic bottles, tubs and jugs.  Use the numbers on the bottom to see if the plastic is safe for reuse.

Why can’t I put plastic lids and caps in my commingling recycling?

Lids are small and flat and can end up in places they shouldn’t be, such as in the folds of cardboard or newspaper, contaminating those materials when they are sorted and sent off to be recycled at a paper mill.  Bottle caps and other small plastics can get caught in the gears of the conveyor belts that are used to sort out our commingled recycling. That’s why we only recycle containers 6oz and larger. (Think single size yogurt cup).

There so many plastics, why can we only recycle a few types of plastic containers?

There are over 100 different types of resins used to make plastics, not all of which can be easily sorted or recycled. Here in Deschutes County, the plastics that are accepted include bottles, tubs and jugs. Other plastics, such as bags, shrink wrap and clamshell take out containers, can contaminate the materials and are not permitted recyclables. Try to reuse these plastics that cannot be recycled, or try to avoid them in the first place when you are shopping.

Why do we recycle glass in a separate bin from the rest of our recycling?

Glass breaks easily, is difficult to sort and can harm workers, damage equipment and cause problems in the recycling. Glass is kept separate in most Oregon communities. Never put glass in your commingled recycling.

Why can plastic bags be recycled at a grocery store, but not in my home bin?

Plastic bags, much like plastic lids, can contaminate other materials in the recycling process. It gets stuck between cardboard or stacks of paper, or it gets caught on the gears of recycling sorting machinery, causing the system to fail. Supermarkets however, are able to keep those materials bundled together by collecting just plastic bags and film. They also have the transportation infrastructure already in place. To avoid transporting empty containers, many supermarkets will recycle cardboard, plastic bags, wood pallets and sometime even food just so they don’t have to drive empty trucks back to the distributor.

What should I do with batteries?

Alkaline household AA and AAA batteries can go straight in to the trash now.  They no longer contain items that are toxic or sought after for recycling into new material.  Rechargable batteries however are widely recyclable – find a listing of locations on our Find a Recycler or Reuser database.  And then begin replacing your disposable batteries with rechargable ones!

Are plastic cups recyclable?

No, plastic cups are not recyclable.  However, many local event organizers now use compostable cups that can be commercially composted.  These look just like plastic cups, so look on the bottom of the cup to see if it reads “COMPOSTABLE” and then head to your nearest Zero Waste Station to make sure the cups get in the right bin.  Compostable cups cannot be recycled and they will not break down in a home compost bin, so make sure they make it into a commercial composting bin if there is one available at the event.

Why aren’t paper coffee cups recyclable, if it’s made from paper?

Unfortunately, in order for your drink to not get absorbed by the paper, the inside of the cup is lined with something. Usually plastic. Sometimes a renewable product, like plastic made from corn, but still plastic. Because of that mix of materials, paper cups are not recyclable (but that hot sleeve is!).

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