What’s Really Recyclable and What’s Not

What’s Really Recyclable and What’s Not

Those in the know for the Town of Herndon share information.

To settle a husband and wife “discussion,” I recently sat down with Tammy Chastain, Deputy Director of Public Works, and Mike Farr, Utility Manager at the Town of Herndon to get the real scoop on common household items that make you wonder if they are recyclable or not. With our busy lives, convenient, single-use containers and free shipping are the new norms but what can you do with all the packaging?

Currently, every resident in the town’s automated refuse pick up program receives a blue-lidded container to put their recyclables in and recycling is collected every Wednesday throughout the entire Town. The containers should be placed at your curb by 6 a.m. The Town accepts co-mingled items that include recyclable glass, aluminum cans, some plastics and papers and the service is part of what you receive as part of the Town’s budget. However, I discovered many items that I use on a routine basis are not recyclable.

  • First, the Basics: The town picked up 1,725 tons of recyclable material for a recycling rate of 44 percent; that is how much of our trash pick up was diverted from landfills. American Disposal processes all of our recycling. While that is still over our required minimum of 25 percent, we can do a whole lot better. Mike Farr noted that 100 percent is not realistic “60-70 percent is something we can shoot for,” Farr said.

  • How to Recycle Smarter: Paper is mostly recyclable so toss your newspapers, junk mail, correspondence into your recycle bin. Waxed paper or cardboard containers such as milk and orange juice cartons, soup stock or any tetra pak containers are all recyclable once they are rinsed out. Pizza boxes are only recyclable if you have cut out the greasy sections otherwise please throw these in the trash.

Never Recycle These Paper Items:

  • Gift-wrap, tissue paper, gift bows and ribbons

  • Paper gift bags; these often contain additional metal, plastic and fiber components that are not recyclable

  • Shredded paper; it’s always thrown out at the sorting facility

Cardboard is always recyclable except when it gets wet! Once it gets wet, it is unrecyclable and simply thrown away. This is why it is important to break down your boxes and place them in the blue recycling container to keep them dry. Please do not put boxes outside on the curb for the same reason. Styrofoam and almost all packing materials are never recyclable so always empty your boxes before you recycle them.

Plastic items often contain a triangular recyclable sign on them with a number that shows its type of plastic. All numbered items are acceptable for recycling. However, thin or flexible plastics cannot be recycled because they clog the machines used to sort items.

Always Rinse and Recycle These Items:

  • Tupperware, GladWare and any hard plastic reusable food containers and lids

  • Plastic shampoo, conditioner, body wash and laundry detergent bottles

  • Plastic buckets and plant containers, the kind you get when you buy seedlings

  • Yogurt, cottage cheese and dairy whip topping containers

  • Plastic berry cartons, egg cartons and hard plastic storage bins

Metal cans, metal lids, aluminum cans and clean aluminum foil. Any food debris will cause them to be picked out at the recycling facility and thrown in the trash.

Never Recycle These Items:

  • No Grocery bags, including the thin plastic bags used for produce

  • No Flexible plastics such as sandwich wrap, Baggies, bread bags, chip bags, mulch and fertilizer bags

  • No Plastic wrapping used to bundle cases of bottled water, bulk toilet paper and paper towels

  • No Wire clothes hangers

Other Common Household Items I Was Surprised to Find Out Are Not Recyclable:

  • No Hard plastic blister bubbles on packaged items

  • No Toothbrushes, hairbrushes, plastic combs and hair rollers

  • No Wooden baskets, wooden cooking utensils, toothpicks and chopsticks

  • No Disposable plastic plates, cups, utensils and tablecloths

  • No Ballpoint plastic pens

  • No Ceramics and broken plates and mugs

  • No Fabric items including old clothing, towels and blankets

  • No Mirrors and any mirrored items

  • No Foam pool noodles and flip-flops

What Can You Do With Some of These Non-Recyclable Items? Tammy Chastain recommends, “Donate, reuse or return!” She advised me to bag clean grocery bags and return them to the grocery store – there is an entirely separate process for recycling these and most grocery stores have a collection bin for them. Bundle up your wire hangers and return them to the dry cleaners. For clothing and other fabric items, Tammy suggested donating them to charities that accept them, for example, local dog shelters and animal rescue groups are often in search of old towels.

Three Easy Things to Recycle Better and Reduce the Amount of Trash in Landfills:

  • Never put your recyclables in a plastic bag; any bagged items are automatically thrown into the trash;

  • Always rinse your recyclables; if they have too much food debris they are thrown into the trash too; and

  • Use reusable shopping bags whenever possible.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” Mike Farr recommends. To check if a specific item is recyclable, you can go to the Town’s website, click on the Refuse and Recycling page (http://www.herndon-va.gov/town-services/refuse-and-recycling) and you can click the link to the American Disposal website. Happy recycling! And thanks for helping to keep the Town of Herndon green.