Trash Control & What Can’t be Recycled

This week’s audit is trash control. Knowing how much trash you have and how to have less. Yesterday we looked at items you should not find in your trash; items you can recycle. Today let’s look at what cannot be recycled.

Aerosol cans made from combined plastics and metals.

Squeezable plastics – in the past none of the squeezable plastics were recyclable (think mustard bottle). However, I’ve seen the news that some are now. It’s still sort of iffy though.

Depending on where you take them, and what area you live in, the following may not be recyclable

  • Light bulbs
  • crystal
  • plastic silverware
  • foam
  • window glass
  • pottery (like old clay pots)
  • carbon papers
  • plastic bags

You need to check with your local recycling center to get the whole run-down. To find your local centers visit Earth 911 – they have a form you can fill in and it will locate you a center.

Juice boxes – some are not. Some are made from recycled materials and some can be recycled. However, if you’ve got a juice box that’s a mix, such as one made with plastic, foil, and cardboard, it may end up not being recycled. Once you mix materials it becomes tough to sort them out again.

Smart Paint Disposal

Before the holidays, many families try to spruce up the old homestead with fresh paint (both exterior and interior). But what to do with left-over paint? Toss it?

Nope; paint poured into your drains or outside will harm streams, groundwater supplies and soil due to runoff and chemicals. Not to mention; if you pour it outside, animals and kids may find it and get sick.

  • The best first step would be to use safer, less toxic paints. One of my favorite magazines, Mother Earth News had a wonderful article last year that discussed earth-friendly paints including how to make your own. There’s also a full gallery of photos.
  • If you do a lot of painting save your leftovers. Unless you’re using key-lime for everything (please say no) then all your old paints mixed together will tend to create a dullish gray color can be re-used as a primer for other projects.
  • Use it up. Let the kids use it with small brushes for art, paint birdhouses or bookshelves; donate it to a school or community center.
  • Give it to a hazardous waste collection organization. Ask your local trash or recycling program where to go.
  • Bulk paint is no bargain. I very rarely say, “Don’t buy in bulk” but anything that’s toxic is going to be something I do say that about. If you only need to paint the porch rails, don’t buy a gallon because it’s less money per unit. That’s not a bargain for the planet.

Aerosol Product Recycling

Yesterday, in my list of non-recyclables, I posted that aerosols are not recyclable. But that’s based on my experience. I’ve had a heck of a time with centers in a few of the towns I’ve lived in.

So then, Peter left this comment, “You are wrong! Aerosols are currently easily recycled – in the UK 95% of local councils accept them in the recycling scheme. Incidentally, most aerosols contain around 25% of material that is recycled.”

Which brings me back to my point that I personally have had aerosols turned away by recycling centers. I usually just don’t buy them. Still, Peter’s comment, was good because it got me thinking. I haven’t looked up aerosol laws in a while. So I did. However, I only looked up U.S. laws.

The Consumer Aerosol Products Council has an entire page about recycling aerosol products. Of course, they would, it’s to their benefit. Still, they’re claiming that almost all aerosol items are recyclable. They also note that not all centers do take them but that, “You can help by encouraging your community to accept empty aerosol cans along with other metal containers.” Which is a good point,. In the places I’ve lived that won’t accept certain items, if enough people made a fuss, the centers would have to eventually give in to consumer pressure.

If your local center won’t take your aerosol cans try this locator form to find a center that will. The Steel Recycling Institute notes that many aerosols can end up as rejects because they remain partially full, or they’re outdated. There’s pressure on recycling centers to empty cans and attempt to recycle anyway. The EPA offers scattered info on aerosol cans noting that household cans should be recycled but not all centers accept them. They also have a good section on cans that contain pesticides, noting:

“Recycling of aerosol containers is increasing dramatically and represents a significant potential recycled resource given the large numbers of units produced each year (approximately 3,000,000,000 aerosol containers of which 10% hold pesticides). Aerosol pesticide containers, however, are not now recycled to any appreciable extent because of the nature of the current safety and label instructions that require disposal of these containers. Failure to follow label statements for registered pesticides is a violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Changing these label instructions to permit recycling of aerosol pesticide containers would allow such recycling programs to operate and reap significant environmental and economic benefits.”

So, it sounds like people are working on the aerosol issues – but we have a way to go.

Recycling Hazardous Household Waste

It’s easy to recycle cardboard, paper, and plastic, but what about recycling hazardous household waste? It’s a little tougher. However, you can’t just toss icky stuff in the trash, or down the sink. Hazardous waste is called hazardous for a reason; toss it out and it’ll pollute groundwater, soil, and streams.

Hazards you might have around the house include things like:

  • Paint and paint thinner
  • Varnish or wood stains
  • Motor oil, antifreeze, and other automobile fluids
  • Toxic cleaners
  • Weed or bug killer
  • Some adhesives, caulking, and other household fix-it supplies
  • Batteries
  • Some arts and craft materials

Some items like paints or art supplies can be donated rather than tossed. Get the full scoop on paint recycling here. Other items are more tricky. Follow these steps:

  1. Use up what you can. What you can’t use, should be donated when possible, and if you can’t give it away (think old batteries) move on to step two.
  2. Call your local community disposal or recycling company and ask. Most of the time, these folks will know where to send you and your toxic recyclables.
  3. Look up hazardous waste drop-off sites in your community. To locate these drop-off sites, a quick trip to your online city or county website will do the trick. Look under headings like waste disposal or recycling until you find what you need.
  4. Visit Earth 911. If you’re at a dead-end, Earth 911 can usually help. Earth 911 has a super-fast recycling search guide; all you do is enter your zip code and the item you’re looking to recycle.

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