A Tale of the Ambitious Recycler


This one is for us: The “Ambitious Recyclers”. We proudly display a recycling bin in our home, separate trash from plastics and are determined to live sustainability in a low-impact way. Yet, nowadays, recycling is more then offering curbside collections, it’s about how we can reduce recycling contamination in our homes and workplaces and become better recyclers.

Recycling contamination, the mixing of non-recyclable materials in the recycling stream, is increasing the cost of sorting the items, and proper disposal and transporting of trash materials. According to Waste Management, “The average contamination rate for materials that we collect in curbside recycling programs has grown to about 25%.  That means that 500 pounds of every 2,000 pounds that we collect at the curb is ultimately discarded as non-recyclable. “ This is a recycling problem that needs to be changed.

It’s becoming more important for us as consumers to be mindful of how to properly dispose of our waste, in order to minimize contamination of recyclables with our non-recyclables. Not only is it ruining good, reusable, materials when they come into contact with trash, it is also detrimental for the recycling economy.  For example, NPR states “The U.S. exports about one-third of its recycling, and nearly half goes to China...but it declared that this "foreign waste" includes too many other non recyclable materials that are "dirty," even "hazardous." Since China has placed a ban on importing recyclables, it has left U.S. recycling companies with limited options in managing their recyclable materials. Thus, it’s up to us as consumers to become more aware of what we are disposing of in our recycling bins.


With single-stream recycling comes great responsibility. Knowing what can be recycled is no easy task, since plastics come in all types of material; hard plastic, low-grade plastic, plastic with assigned numbers, plastic bags, used plastic containers - where does one even start in becoming a more responsible recycler? Well, glad you asked! It’s important to exercise the what and where of recycling. Know what plastics are recyclable and where the proper locations are that they can be recycled at.

When in doubt, don’t toss it in recycling.

Hard plastics are usually recyclable through curbside programs, but plastic bags need to brought to your grocery stores that accept them. One of the biggest culprits of recycling contamination is the pizza boxes. Once a paper material is saturated with food waste or oils it is no longer eligible to be recycled, as it can saturate an entire batch of paper recyclables. It’s always good to check your recyclable materials and keep them clean before tossing them into the bin.

Unsure of what is recyclable? Here is a great guide to knowing what can be recycled.


Written by Christina Monroe.
Christina is a junior at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, studying Communications and Shakespeare Performance. We bid farewell to Christina last week and wish her all the luck for her upcoming school year! 
jillian clark