20 Apr 19
The Mercury News
MOUNTAIN VIEW — Paper egg cartons, clamshell containers for berries or fruit, black plastic to-go containers: These are just a few of the items you shouldn’t be throwing into your recycling bin.
It’s best to check your local Department of Public Works’ website, or contact your recycling provider or city recycling department for specifics, said Cynthia Palacio, a senior analyst for Mountain View’s Recycling and Zero Waste Division, as each municipality has slightly different regulations.
But with the U.S. selling recycled materials to China and other countries, Palacio said, there are some hard and fast rules to remember, even with the uncertainty about what is or isn’t being recycled overseas. Earlier this year, Chinese recycling centers started being far more selective about what they would or will not buy from overseas suppliers, that is: us.
So what we optimistically toss into the recycling bin, hoping that it will somehow get reused, is increasingly likely to be turned away or at best, create more work for workers who sort the materials, Palacio said. That increases the risk of contaminating the recycling that is being sold and the chance that it will be sent back. Palacio was at Mountain View’s community center Saturday for the city’s inaugural Earth Day fair, educating educate fair-goers about what should and should not go into the recycling bin.
Conscientious recyclers, Palacio said, should be more vigilant about ensuring that all containers are thoroughly cleaned of food scraps and dried. They should also be more careful about separating clean paper from plastics and metals, to ensure that cities can get the best price for recycled material, and about not throwing into the recycling bin single-use plastic bags or other things that tend to gum up the sorting machines at recycling centers, she said.
Mountain View resident Abigail Evans admitted she had been recycling clamshell plastic fruit containers without realizing they wouldn’t be accepted. Often there isn’t any other way to buy berries at the grocery stores, she said, and it isn’t always possible or financially feasible to shop at a farmer’s market.
“It sort of hurts your heart,” she said. “I’m hoping big companies can make an effort to provide us with package-free products because there aren’t always other options.”
But to make a significant dent in the amount of trash that we, as a society, produce, will require more action on the part of corporations, not just recycling by individuals, said Steve Attinger, the environmental sustainability coordinator for the city of Mountain View. Already, hardware stores collect used batteries and fluorescent lightbulbs and many grocery stores will take back single-use plastic bags, he said. But it would take new laws to force companies to take their products back when they break, when customers upgrade to a newer model, or have simply finished using the product.
“If we were to shift the responsibility back to the manufacturers and producers, it would be a game-changer,” Attinger said. “And they could build it into the price of the product.”
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]He added, “Right now, the price we’re paying for goods and services doesn’t reflect environmental cost or the cost to disadvantaged communities.”
Although it may not be possible to rid your life of plastics altogether, Palacio said, you can limit the number of single-use plastic containers you go through by buying in bulk where possible or reusing plastic to-go containers and plastic bags.
In the meantime, below are [cq comment=”for print, say: “see the sidebar” because placement could differ”] some rules to follow.
What goes into the recycling bin?
Always check with your local municipality or recycling provider for its unique specifications. But, here are some general principals most Bay Area cities and towns follow.
Yes, do recycle:
Aluminum cans and foil
Glass bottles and jars (but no other glass)
Metal cans and lids (but no other metals)
Plastic bottles, tubs, jugs and lids
Milk, juice and soup cartons
Clean paper products, such as catalogs, junk mail, newspapers, magazines, paper bags, phone books, manila folders and receipts
No, don’t recycle:
Clamshell plastic containers
Plastic wrap and bags
Ceramics or other glassware
Hot and cold coffee or Styrofoam cups
Egg cartons (but you can throw these in the compost)
Frozen food boxes
Food-soiled paper or cardboard; anything with liquid still inside
Packaging materials, such as foam peanuts