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Rethink what you recycle

Rethink what you recycle

Amy Boyson

When in doubt, throw it out

Recycling. It seems so simple, but about 30 percent of all household materials recycled in Florida are actually not supposed to be put in your curbside recyclables bin, according to estimates by Waste Management. When it comes to recycling, getting the right items in the cart makes all the difference. So when in doubt, it’s better to “throw it out” than ruin your good recyclables.

Single-stream recycling offers the convenience of a large, wheeled cart and no sorting of recyclables — throw it all in together. But the challenge this convenience brings is increased contamination in the recycled waste stream. When non-recyclables end up at our processing centers, the items must be removed or they end up contaminating high-value recyclables. In an effort to reduce contamination and get back to the basics of recycling, Waste Management offers a few simple guidelines:

  • Do NOT bag recyclables. Recyclable items must be loose in your cart.
  • NO plastic bags. Plastic bags have a habit of getting tangled in our processing equipment. Take them back to your local retailer to recycle.
  • NO garbage or food waste in your recycle cart. Food scraps and liquids may seem harmless but they could turn an entire load of recyclables into garbage.
  • Include ONLY paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, jugs and tubs, and aluminum and steel cans. If it is not one of those items, put it in the garbage.    

Let’s talk more about plastics. The waste stream has more complex and confusing plastics, which has resulted in increased contamination. Many believe the universal recycling arrows on a container mean something is recyclable, however that is not always true. Manufacturers strive to get eco-friendly information, like the arrows, on their product labels. It sells. However, the recycling arrows symbol is not a reliable indicator of whether something gets recycled. There are thousands of plastic products and packaging, and many plastics cannot be made into new products at this time. It is best to recycle plastics by shape: bottles, jugs and tubs.

Always remember. Almost everything we encounter can be recycled somehow, someway. However, in a single-stream recycling curbside program like we have in Brevard County, the items accepted are limited to paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, jugs and tubs, and aluminum and steel cans. If it is not one of these items, it does not belong in your recycle cart.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently launched a new statewide recycling education program, RETHINK … RESET … RECYCLE. The program encourages Floridians to RETHINK what we recycle and RESET our behavior to focus on what we RECYCLE. Waste Management is one of several partners of the new campaign, which is designed to boost awareness of the top items in a successful recycling program.

More information about recycling can be found at

Amy Boyson is the community affairs manager at Waste Management, the largest environmental solutions provider and residential recycler in North America, serving more than 21 million customers. She is responsible for communication, community outreach and community awareness of Waste Management’s sustainability goals in Central and North Florida.

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