Advice on items that can be recycled in Alachua County

Are you a Wishcycler? If you throw unsure items into your orange and blue recycling bins, hoping that they might be recyclable, then you are a Wishcycler.

Unfortunately, despite your good intentions, you are contributing to the contamination of our recycling program in Alachua County. Plastic bags, foam wraps, garden hoses and clamshell take-out containers are all “contamination” – or items that entangle our equipment, increase costs and slow down the process for employees sorting at hand your recyclables.

Forget the numbers inside the triangle. Follow form and function. If in doubt, throw it out.

Most people know they can recycle paper and cardboard in their orange bin and aluminum cans, steel cans, and glass bottles and jars in their blue bin; however, plastics seem to create confusion. Flip almost anything plastic over and you’ll see a small triangle or arrows symbol with a number between 1 and 7 inside. These numbers are known as the resin identification code or RIC.

Americans have been trained to believe that the triangle or chasing arrows symbol means it is recyclable. This is not the case ! The RIC is an industrial mark that indicates the resin or type of plastic used to make the item and has little to do with its recyclability. The way plastic items are formed or molded (vacuum, injection, blown…) and the chemicals added during production will change the melting point of the material and its suitability for remanufacturing.

Both a soda bottle and a clamshell container can be made from #1 PETE plastic, but only the soda bottle can be recycled. The clamshell container (like a blueberry container) is a lower quality plastic with a different melting point than the bottle, so it is considered contamination.

Manufacturers make recycling even more difficult by producing containers or packaging from one of seven types of plastic; many may look and feel similar. Sometimes they use multiple types of plastics in one container which causes even more problems.

Advice on what is and is not accepted in the blue and orange recycling bins

To recycle properly, follow form and function when recycling plastic. As a guide, if it is designed to hold liquid and has a spout (soda and water bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, etc.), drop put it in your blue bin. Butter tubs and yogurt containers can also be recycled in your blue bin. Just rinse them lightly and discard the caps and lids.

The Alachua County Materials Recovery Facility uses a magnet to remove steel cans, an eddy current to sort aluminum cans, a glass breaker to divert glass bottles and jars, and a crew hard workers to remove the contamination and sort out all the remaining plastic items by hand, as they parade on a conveyor belt. Materials are sorted, baled and shipped to recycling facilities in the United States.

Overall, the best practice is to reduce and reuse before recycling. Bring reusable bags to the store, containers to take from home to restaurants, and your cup or refillable bottle so you don’t have to buy bottled water when you go out. Shop our many local farmers markets for fresh produce that is not wrapped in plastic.

Refuse single-use plastics like straws or disposable cutlery with your takeout order. Reuse plastic containers to organize and store small things like craft supplies or extra screws. Take plastic wraps like grocery bags and clean, dry foam egg cartons or meat trays back to the grocery store where they have designated bins to collect hard-to-recycle items. Return the black plastic flower pots to the nursery or hardware store.

Materials Recovery Facility Quality Control Officers work on separating recyclable items at Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station in 2019.

Remember, when in doubt, throw it out, and please don’t be a wishcycler. Visit alachuacountyrecycles.com where you can learn more about how to recycle properly, book a free tour of our facilities or a presentation for your group or school.

Alanna Carinio is the Alachua County Solid Waste and Resource Recovery Public Education Program Coordinator.

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