Think twice about that pizza box: What is and isn’t acceptable for the recycling bins

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(ABC4) – When it comes to recycling dos and don’ts, it can be a good thing to err on the side of caution and avoid contaminating valuable recyclables with items that belong in the trash.

That means next time you consider tossing that used pizza box in the blue recycling bin, don’t.

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“That’s a common one that gets put in,” Jill Fletcher, who works in public outreach and education for the Trans-Jordan Landfill tells ABC4, explaining that the grease from the cheese and over food waste leftovers make the box unsuitable for recycling.

“We always say when in doubt, throw it out,” she continues.

While things such as pizza boxes and Pringles cans, which can be made of a combination of cardboard, metal, and plastic, generally aren’t recycled, many other food and household items are. According to Ace Disposal, which serves many Wasatch Front cities, separate from the Trans-Jordan Landfill, the things which are and aren’t recyclable can often be confused for each other.

Clean paper and cardboard with ink, such as newspapers, cereal boxes, and egg cartons, are all given the green light at the recycling process centers. Coated paper containers which can be found as milk and juice boxes are not recyclable.

When it comes to plastic, empty bottles and jugs like soda bottles of varying sizes, gallon-sized milk jugs, and empty laundry detergent containers are recyclable. Plastic bags and cups, along with take-out containers and other Styrofoam items, are a no-go. In fact, Ace asks its customers to not bag recyclable items at all in the blue bins.

Glass and yard waste are also not acceptable for recyclable, according to Ace, whereas Trans-Jordan does accept glass. What is and isn’t acceptable comes down to which hauler, provider, and sorter each city uses. Residents should check the list of acceptable recyclable materials for their respective cities.

While it can seem like a chore to sort out what is recyclable in time for pickup day each week, Fletcher says it’s an important part of the process. Items put in the blue bins end up at a sorting facility, where a surprising amount of technology goes into making sure the right stuff gets to the right place. A system of lasers can scan for the proper types of plastics, while a magnet can pick up other acceptable and unacceptable material. There is a system of quality control done by human hands, but for the most part, the machines do a large share of the heavy lifting.

As is commonly known, recycling acceptable and valuable materials is beneficial to the health of the earth, according to Fletcher. The process of making recycled products has gotten much faster, too. Recycle USA states that an aluminum soda can can be recycled in just 60 days, six times a year without a loss of properties.

“There’s definitely value in the items that are going to the landfill, they can be made into new items,” she says.

Getting as many items out of the landfill and back into recycled usage will become more and more important quite soon for the Trans-Jordan facility, located south of the Salt Lake Valley. Fletcher says within 8-10 years, the landfill will reach its maximum capacity. At that point, their customer’s trash and recycling will have to be transferred to other landfills in the state, some of which aren’t expected to be filled for 100 years.

Whether there is or isn’t an apparent need to slow down the filling of landfills by responsible recycling, Fletcher states there are many important reasons to reuse as much as possible.

“It cuts down on energy, saves our natural resources so we don’t have to extract our natural resources,” she says. “It also cuts down on air and water pollution and creates jobs.”

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