How to be an all-star recycler: Focus on the basics to win big | Guest Column

Michelle Metzler

You’ve got the fundamentals down. There are two containers in the kitchen — one marked trash and one marked recycling. You’ve placed recycling containers throughout the house, and all recycling guidelines have been properly posted.

Consider this your call-up to the majors. It’s time to turn pro and put that home system to the test.

First up, metals and paper should always be recycled. Recycling metals and paper products delivers the greatest overall environmental benefits from a lifecycle perspective. These materials are easy to recycle, and it takes far less energy to create new materials from recycled metals and paper products than from raw materials.

Another way of looking at it is to focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: recycling metals and paper is a grand slam in terms reducing GHG emissions. And we know there’s a lot of opportunity for improvement, since 45 percent of aluminum cans still end up in the garbage!

Now let’s hit it out of the park with metals. You already know to recycle all tin, aluminum and steel cans. But if you really want to make this your breakout season, go deep and recycle more than just metal containers. Metal pots, tools or scrap metal can all be recycled, if they aren’t ready for donation — just be sure there are no sharp edges or weird greasy metal.

OK, good info, but let’s not send plastics down to the minors just yet. Recycling plastic “bottles, jugs and tubs” is also a home run in terms of reducing GHG emissions.

Something to remember, though: don’t let the “chasing arrows” fool you. Even if there’s a recycling symbol on the packaging, it doesn’t mean “recyclable.” Best practice is to recycle according to shape: bottles, jugs and tubs all go in the curbside cart.

Also, plastic caps are now recyclable. Simply put them back on empty containers before tossing in your cart.

Another important page in the playbook is about plastic bags and film plastics, which should never end up in your curbside recycling cart in any way, shape or form. This includes plastic wrap, bubble wrap, plastic sandwich bags, freezer bags and plastic grocery bags. For plastic bags, specifically, the best game plan is to reuse them as many times as possible, and then return them the grocery store for recycling.

So now you know how to win big on recycling at home, whether you’ve set your sights on the community league playoffs or the World Series.

Recycling Hall of Fame, anyone?

This is a monthly column by Michelle Metzler, Waste Management’s team leader for public education and outreach.

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