By Tulwen Adams ’22
With Austin College teaming up with Recyclops to get back to recycling on campus, it’s a good time to ask some fundamental questions about recycling contamination. Namely, what it is, and why it matters.
What is recycling contamination?
Recycling contamination is any non-recyclable item that winds up in the recycling stream. Some contamination might seem obvious, like soiled motor oil containers. Other contaminants are less apparent, like wax-lined paper cups. The two best ways to avoid recycling contamination are to familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t recyclable according to the guidelines of your local service, and to trash items you aren’t sure about. If you’re not sure whether an item is recyclable or not, it’s better off in the trash than contaminating the recycling. Remember, one more item heading to the landfill is better than an entire container of contaminated recycling heading to the landfill.
Why does it matter?
Contaminated recycling doesn’t get reused or repurposed, it goes to the landfill. Even if the recycling isn’t taken to the landfill, contamination creates a major problem for recycling facilities. Contaminants such as plastic bags can wrap around the machinery used to sort and process recyclables, leading to a shut-down of the facility while employees climb inside the equipment to clean out the tangled items. Food containers — like pizza boxes — are often stained with grease that soaks into the paper. If the boxes end up in the recycling, they will be processed along with clean recyclables, contaminating an entire batch of paper pulp with grease and rendering it non-reusable.
What can AC students do to help?
Following the Recyclops guidelines for recycling is essential. So, before you recycle, ensure that:
- You have the right bag for your recycling. If you live in the North or South Flats, Bryan Apartments, Roo Suites, or Cottages, make sure you have the required green recycling bags to collect your loose recyclables. You can collect a semester’s supply of these bags from the Environmental Studies Coordinator, Rebecca Jones.
- Your items are recyclable. Recyclable items on campus include plastics number 1, 2, or 5; paper; cardboard; and metal containers, such as food tins or soda cans. Ensure that all items are dry and clean of food residue. Paper with dry ink is fine, but wet, shredded or plastic-coated paper is not recyclable. For more information, check out the AC Recycling page.
Remember, if you aren’t sure whether an item is recyclable or not, it’s better to put it in the trash than to risk contaminating the whole container. When in doubt, throw it out!