I'm inside town of Herndon and we have single stream recycling, but even when I look at the flyer/handout as to what is 'accepted', I still find myself with questions as to what can & cannot be recycled. Examples of things that I've been unsure of recently include: waxed cardboard food packaging from the freezer (sausages come in these); unmarked plastic bags - thicker ones from frozen foods, thinner ones from produce; ziploc bags, unmarked midweight plastic when it's attached to cardboard boxes (think stuff in the target toy aisle - barbie packaging, doll packaging with cardboard backs and plastic "windows"), twist ties (if they're just paper and aluminum, are they recyclable), non-zipper "old school" food storage bags, plastic wrap from food - if it's 'reasonably clean'; lids on plastic drink bottles/gatorade botles, pizza boxes, pizza boxes with some cheese "oil" residue?
(is styrofoam still a 'no')?
if you know the answer, thanks in advance
Plastics recycling can be confusing but basically, the number inside of the recycling symbol identifies what kind of plastic it is, i.e., its chemical formula. So when plastics are collected for recycling, they all have to be processed where they are separated back into their individual type of plastic. This must be done in order for the recycled plastic to meet the quality requirements and specifications of the company that purchases the recycled plastic so that it can be turned into new product.
Most of the recycled plastics processing is done by hand, that is, it is manually sorted. And because there are so many different types of plastics (including blends of plastics), the vast majority of plastics processing (separation) is done manually based on the shape of the container. We know that clear plastic bottles with necks are made from plastic no. 1. We know that colored plastic bottles and milk jugs are made from plastic no. 2 . Both of these containers are easy to identify by sight. Now that wide-mouth containers are widely used, there are companies that want to by this type of plastic (usually plastic no. 5) so you can recycle wide mouth containers. They are also easy to identify by sight so they can be separated from other recyclables at the processing facility.
With respect to plastic bags and plastic film (including Barbie containers), there are many issues associated with these types of plastics. While they can be recycled, they are very difficult to collect. If bags are not bundled, they can easily become a source of litter. But the real problem occurs when the plastics go the recyclables processing facility. They can very easily get wrapped around the many moving conveyor belts and other turning equipment in the processing facility. It is widely documented that plastic bags and film have been responsible for taking down the equipment in several recycling processing facilities resulting in lost productivity and repair costs. Therefore, the recycling processor has told the managers of recycling programs in all of northern VA that it will no longer accept plastic bags for recycling. While we realize that we cannot prevent residents from placing recyclables in plastic bags, the recycling processors cannot and will not process plastic film in their facilities. Local grocery stores have been willing to collect the bags. They send the bags directly to manufacturers without the need for the bags/film to be processed at a recycling processing facility.
For additional details on plastics recycling, please visit the the Association of Post-Consumer Plastic Recyclers.
Styrofoam is very difficult to recycle because there are limited markets (that is, no one wants to buy it), there are no manufacturers within a reasonable distance to the county that can use the material and because it is so lightweight, it is very expensive to transport. It is important to note here that Fairfax County does not landfill its waste. For the past 22 years, Fairfax County has combusted waste for power generation at its waste-to-energy facility in Lorton, VA. The plastics that are not recycled in the traditional sense are recycled into energy at the waste-to-energy facility where we generate about 80 megawatts of power.
With respect to paper recycling, we always suggest “clean paper that tears”. Most coatings on paper boxes can be removed with advanced pulping technologies at paper mills. With respect to pizza boxes with grease, we still suggest that these be disposed of with the trash. Gable-top containers like milk and juice containers are no longer coated with wax which interferes with the paper recycling process; the coating now is actually plastic and these containers can be recycled, rinse and leave the lid on.
With respect to items that are made of two different types of materials, i.e., twist ties, they should be disposed of since there is no feasible technique to separate them.
The recycling processors are now requesting that lids on bottles be kept on because of the new processing technologies. The first thing that happens at a recycling processing facility is that the materials move over a shaking screen. This is intended to remove the broken glass. But the holes in the screens are big enough to allow the caps from bottles and jugs to fall through the holes and therefore contaminate the glass. The plastic that the cap is made from is a different plastic than the plastic the bottle is made from. But, again due to advances in technology, the bottles are ground up and sent to tank of water where their different densities makes one float while the other sinks. And then the plastics can be separated so that they can be sold to a manufacturer that can make new product from that type of plastic.
Sorry for the detailed explanation, but we think it is important for residents to understand why some items can be recycled while other can’t.