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Making a recycling plan

A reader posted this question in the comments section of my Let's Get Ready to Roll Cart post:

Trying to setup my system also and a bit overwhelmed. Do you have a "recycling plan" that you are willing to describe (either in comments here or a new post)? Clearly a weekly part of the plan is to use your curbside recycling. But you also make trips to PLC for styrofoam and you recycle some plastics at the roundups (which happen how often in general)?

Portland and other metro areas around the country offer numerous ways to recycle just about everything. Which is great, right? But it can seem overwhelming trying to get all your recyclables to various locations. I think the most important part is setting up a recycling center where the items can be easily sorted into categories. Because if you don't have a spot for them, you'll just throw them in the trash to get them out of your way. Just tackle it one step at a time, and after awhile you will start to question everything you throw into your garbage can. Here is my inexpert approach to recycling:

1. Find out what you can recycle curbside, and hang the list over your recycling bin or roll cart. Most municipalities will have this info on a Web site. In Portland, the list for the new roll carts is here. I recycle everything I can curbside. To make it really easy for my family, I've got small recycling cans all over our house: the office, playroom, laundry room and both bathrooms. (Our recycling center is right outside our kitchen, so I don't need one there.) That way empty toilet rolls, shampoo bottles, scrap paper and laundry detergent boxes are guaranteed to get recycled, not trashed. We also toss all kinds of plastic material in these cans, but we sort through them every week making sure only the proper material goes in the curbside bins. Read this post and this post for more information.

2. Think about other recyclable items your house generates on a frequent basis. Typical household recyclables that can't be recycled curbside are: different types of plastics, alkaline batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, styrofoam. This goes for my house at least. Your house might generate other recyclable items on a frequent basis (for instance, is there is a diabetic in your home who uses syringes daily...these are recyclable). Check out this list on the Metro Web site of recyclable material. Even if you don't live in Portland, it's a good jumping off point.

3. Find out where you can recycle these other items. Check the Earth911 database, or if you're in Portland use the excellent Metro database. Or call the Metro Recycling Hotline at 503-234-3000.

Plastic: In Portland, plastics that can't be recycled curbside can be recycled at one of the Master Recycler Plastics Roundups held every 3 months or so. The next one is May 17, so write it on the calendar! Items like rigid clamshell take-out containers or trays, plastic hangers, drinking straws, dry cleaning and tortilla chip bags, lids...the list is staggering. You really need to visit the Master Recycler Web site for a complete list, as well as location details. (EnviroMom.com also lists and promotes these events.)

Rigid plastic (versus plastic film, aka plastic bags) is often labeled from #1-7, so I find it's easier to have 7 bins in my recycling center that I just sort these plastics into every day. Plastics that aren't labeled go into a bin marked Miscellaneous, which is always the fullest bin. Plastic bags are kept separate. When you get to the Roundup you will have to sort your plastics by number (they also have an area for unmarked, miscellaneous plastics), so it's just easier for me to pre-sort daily. (It's very important to note that plastics labeled PLA7 are NOT acceptable at the Plastics Roundup. These are 'biodegradable' plastics and are considered a contaminant in the recycling system. These plastics need to be thrown in the garbage.)

Many grocery stores will recycle certain types of plastic tubs and bags (again, check Earth911), and here in Portland, Far West Fibers is another great spot for recycling plastic. The important thing is to have a place in your home designated for plastic, otherwise you'll just toss it in the trash. By the time another Plastics Roundup comes along, trust me, you'll be so glad to get rid of it!

When Portland's roll carts are distributed, you'll be able to put #2 and #5 plastic tubs (yogurt, margarine, salsa) out for curbside recycling. (But not the lids!) I looked in my current #2 and #5 bins to see if there was anything in there that would not be acceptable. In the #5 bins we have prescription pill bottles -- not recyclable curbside, but recyclable at the Plastics Roundup. (And yes, there are excellent opportunities for reuse of these bottles, but I don't want to overwhelm you. Put them in the #5 bin.) In the #2 bin, there was one lonely lid.

Alkaline Batteries: Most office superstores like Staples and Office Depot will recycle batteries. So will Radio Shack. Maybe once a year I take my little box of batteries to Radio Shack while I'm out running errands. Many hazardous waste transfer stations, like Portland's, will also take them. Read more about batteries here.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: CFLs should never be thrown in the garbage because they contain small amounts of mercury. They need to be recycled. I have a bin just for CFLs, which I place them in very gently, and will take to the hazardous waste transfer station on my next trip. Since CFLs last such a long time, I don't have many. But it's important to have a designated spot for them when they do burn out. IKEA will also take back its own brand of CFLs.

Styrofoam: PLC Recycling in Portland accepts styrofoam for FREE. They will accept clean styrofoam blocks, food trays and cups, but not packing peanuts. Those can be taken to any UPS store or mailing business for reuse. I've been collecting my styrofoam for about a year and haven't yet made the trip to PLC. It's up in North Portland (I'm in SW) so I would plan to combine that trip with one that required me to hit other spots in N/NE along the way (like IKEA!).

Recylecenter002 Looking at this list, our recyclables fall into these categories: Weekly (curbside); Semi-Frequently (plastics); and Seldom (batteries, CFLs, styrofoam). I hardly ever think about the Seldom items; I'm just glad to keep them out of the trash. They don't take up much space, and I'll get to them when I have time. Other items that fall into the Seldom category are paint (hazardous waste) and electronics. Again, these things just congregate out of the way until I know I'll be heading to the hazardous waste facility or passing by Free Geek or Bear eCycling (for electronics).

I view the Semi-Frequent items, the plastics, as an 'event.' As soon as the next date of the Plastics Roundup is announced, it's on my calendar. I'll bring my daughter and it will be a destination for us. If we are overflowing in plastic and simply can't wait for the next Roundup (rarely happens), we'll head over to a Far West Fibers depot.

The Weekly items I deal with constantly: get 'em in, move 'em out.

If you are new to plastics recycling, visuals might help you get started. Here are some close-up photos of my bins:

Recyclingcenter001_2 The narrow bin on the left is for #2 plastics. That big stack of Nancy's yogurt containers will go into the blue roll cart eventually, so I'll be downsizing that bin since there won't be much to put into it. The flat bin sitting on the orange bin is for #4s -- mostly lids. Those will all go to the Plastics Roundup. The orange bin is for #1s, which will also continue going to the Plastics Roundup. Let's take a closer look at the contents of bin #1, shall we?

Recyclingcenter002There are some clamshell containers, a rogue Starbucks cold drink cup, and other misc containers and lids. 

By far, however, the bin with the most stuff is the unmarked, miscellaneous plastics bin:

Recyclingcenter004 There are the take-out trays from Baha Fresh, and some crinkly plant pots. Anything without a number goes into this bin. You know how batteries are always encased in plastic? Rip that plastic casing off the cardboard backing and toss it in this bin. Those square plastic ties on bread bags? Into the bin. Plastic straws can be rinsed out and put in the bin. Get the picture? Once you go to a Plastics Roundup, you'll see what other people are bringing to recycle. That's really helpful.

Finally, the big ol' bag o' bags:


We've got yer crinkly chip bags, your foil-like Goldfish cracker bags (mylar), grocery store produce bags, newspaper and dry cleaning bags. But, there is also plastic packaging in there. You know how CDs come wrapped in that plastic that's impossible to remove? It's in there. You don't have to sort and separate these items for the Plastics Roundup. It's all considered 'film' and you'll shove it into one giant bag at the Roundup.

I just realized that there is absolutely nothing in my bins #3, #6 and #7. Yea! Sometimes there will be one or two things, but not often. Still need to have the bins so these rare items have a place to go.

Whew! This might be the longest post I've ever written. I hope it's not overwhelming. Again, this is only my approach, and it works for my family.

You know what would be cool? If people want to send in photos of their recycling centers, it would really help others visualize how they might set up theirs. Email your pics to enviromompdx [at] gmail [dot] com.

Questions about recycling? Suggestions? Fire away!


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