SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – With climate change on the rise, there has been more of an interest in recycling, but not all recycling is created equal, and some items should hardly ever be considered for it. 

“Many plastic items around your house are not recyclable–things like plastic bags, garden hoses, old toys, or pool inflatables. These items should not be thrown in your recycling bin and can slow or even halt machines processing recyclables,” a spokesperson from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality said. “Check your local city or community website for instructions about what can be recycled. Different companies have different capabilities, so it’s important to know what your local recycling company will accept.”

Utah Recycling Alliance Board Member Lydia Keenan and Executive Director Ericka Wells said that while most people know to keep plastic bags & films out of their curbside bins now, there are many misconceptions with the holidays.

“During the holidays, gift wrap can also cause problems. Ribbons and bows definitely need to be kept out of recycling bins–try collecting them and saving to reuse next year instead! And not all gift wrap can be recycled either–a lot of gift wrap contains plastic, metallics, and/or clay in the paper. As always, it’s best to check with your local hauler to confirm what they are able to accept,” Keenan and Wells said.

Other items that often get incorrectly recycled are items contaminated by food waste, and if the food affects the other items in the recyclable bin, everything, even correctly recycled items, will be thrown out.

“Recycling centers sort materials and are able to remove some contamination, which is sent to the landfill. However, some materials cannot be sorted out and can end up ruining other materials that otherwise could be recycled (i.e. food can contaminate paper & cardboard, making it unusable and causing it to go to landfill). Other non-recyclable materials like plastic bags and larger metal items can cause recycling machinery to stop working and/or put the people working at a sorting facility at risk of being hurt,” Keenan and Wells said.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has a list of recycled items, and goes into detail about other items that cannot be recycled traditionally: 

  • Glass: Not all glass can be thrown in the blue bin. For instance, vases, cookware, and windows can’t be recycled. Also, remember, glass isn’t allowed in general recycling bins.
  • Plastic Bags: Plastic bags require a different process. If a resident wants to recycle their bag, then return those bags to the shopping center where they originated. A tip from The Utah Department of Environmental Quality, “Tie a large dense knot in your plastic bags when disposing. It reduces the opportunity for it to become airborne litter.”
  • Styrofoam: Considered a number six plastic and is not processed through local recycling.
  • Electronics and Batteries: check with your local retail store and see if they do collections as many around Utah are available for this option. 
  • Animal Waste: This should be thrown in the waste bin. 
  • Hazardous Waste: These can include paints, oils, and cleaners. Disposing of them improperly can contaminate the environment and be a risk to public health. Check your local hardware store to see if they take collections. For instance, most auto parts stores will take used motor oil. Check online to find the best location. 
  • Light Bulbs: Most home-improvement stores and recycling centers accept “regular old light bulbs” and Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFL) (which contain mercury). LED light bulbs don’t contain any hazardous material and can be thrown away. There is an option to recycle them, so check with your local recycling center to see if they accept LED bulbs.

“If you aren’t certain that something can go in your bin, ask your local hauler as things can change. Otherwise, ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ because ‘wish-cycling’ or throwing things into a recycling bin that you aren’t sure can be recycled often contributes to contamination and reduces the effectiveness of recycling in Utah,” Keenan and Wells said.

The best way to get ahead of recycling is by creating very little waste, and according to Salt Lake City recycling, residents should be aware of the three “R’s”: 1. Reduce 2. Reuse and then 3. Recycle.

“Old clothing, pieces of fabric, containers, and jars can all be used for sustainable gift wrapping. Use empty plastic and glass jars/containers for storage, organization, drinking glasses, etc. Reuse twist ties and rubberbands. Keep old toothbrushes to use for cleaning. Rethink what you actually need, refuse the things you don’t need, reduce how much you use, reuse what you have, repair belongings when needed, repurpose items when they’re beyond repair, and rot (compost) organic waste. Then, look at what’s remaining and explore if and how those things can be recycled. If they can’t, throw them out and reconsider if there’s a more sustainable option you can choose next time instead,” Keenan and Wells said.