There are many steps you must take to ensure that you are properly recycling your food waste at home. The majority of our waste that can be recycled ends up in the landfill because it was not disposed of properly.
“According to the EPA, approximately 75% of the trash Americans throw away each week is recyclable. Yet only 25% is actually recycled.”
Let’s go over how to find more information about:
- Where our recycled food waste goes into our community
- The process each recycling company uses to manage your recyclables
- How the materials are separated, cleaned, and reused in your area
This knowledge is crucial to reducing contamination and increasing the likelihood that your items will be re-purposed rather than thrown in the landfill.
Our goal is to help you better understand your recycling system so you can recycle food waste at home, with 100% certainty that it is actually getting recycled. Let’s all pledge to take responsibility for our food waste that we create so we can actually reduce, reuse, and recycle.
1. Know What You Can Recycle In Your Area
The company that you are using to pick up your recycling bin will have guidelines on their website that outline what they accept and what they don’t accept. It is up to all of us to educate ourselves on what is recycled in our area.
Every facility is going to accept different things. If we know what is accepted and reused in our area then we could start to make better choices. By choosing food packages that you know is being recycled in your area and avoiding the ones that are being tossed out.
2. Pay Attention Numbers and Symbols
The number in the center of the recycling symbol on the bottom of your package indicates what type of plastic material was used and if it is recyclable. Each recycling center is going to be picky about which number they accept. Many of these types of plastics cannot be broken down and reused so it ends up getting tossed in the landfill.
Even when you think you did your part by throwing it in your recycling bin there is still so much that does not meet the recycling qualifications. There are seven classifications of plastic materials.
We should start to learn what they are so we can more carefully buy products that are made in packages that can actually be reused.
3. Wash and Dry Your Materials
Food residue that is left in recyclables often needs to be properly washed and dried to avoid contaminating other materials. One food product that ends up in the bin can contaminate whole truckloads of recyclables that are then tossed into the landfill.
Worrying about washing your recyclables is most important when your community uses a single-stream recycling system. Where everything is thrown in one bin and then sent to a sorting facility. This is where a lot of materials get contaminated and thrown away.
But there are some recycling programs, depending on your area, that wash your recyclables for you. So double-check to see what you have and wash accordingly.
4. Separate Your Materials
The recycling infrastructure across the country varies widely and there are still some programs that require households to separate their recyclables. If your recycling facility requires you to separate your materials into different bins this is called a multi-stream recycling system.
Multi-stream recycling has less of a success rate because many find it inconvenient. But the materials are often more valuable because there is less likelihood of contamination.
If you have a single stream facility that sorts your recyclables for you it is because they have the technology to do so. There are many different kinds of technology used to sort materials. Such as mechanical agitation, vacuums, magnets, gravity, and other mechanisms to separate materials.
Research what kind of system your local facilities use so you can better understand and use the recycling system in your area. It would also be tremendously educational to visit these facilities and see the process first hand.
5. Don’t Bag It
Do not ever recycle food waste and other recycled materials in plastic bags. If you have to separate your recyclables you will need separate bins to keep the materials organized. Often the recycling facilities provide bins to make this easier to organize.
Plastic bags are not allowed to be recycled or used to hold your recyclables because they tend to get caught in machinery when being separated. This can be dangerous for the workers and can cause delays or even broken equipment.
Plastic grocery bags are also not normally taken by recycling companies for this very reason. And even if you recycle them at your grocery store the likelihood of this thin plastic material being re-used is not very likely. This means every plastic bag ever made has ended up contaminating land and water.
Also, bundles of recyclables often take too much time to sort and undo which means that most of the time it is just tossed in the landfill. So make sure to avoid this mistake by using recycle bins.
6. Choose Recyclable Materials Over Plastic
Choosing grocery products with more sustainable materials like aluminum or glass will better ensure that your food waste is recycled. Aluminum and glass will always be a better alternative than the mystery mix of plastics that are hard to break down and re-use.
As far as metal cans go you want to make sure you are buying food that does not add a plastic liner to the can. These are not recyclable and should be avoided. Also, make sure there is no residue that could potentially contaminate other items. Make sure to wash and dry all your metal food waste at home.
Glass does not degrade from the recycling process so it is a great re-usable material. It should be recycled every time you buy it. And any grocery item that is put in a glass jar should always be chosen over the brand that puts it in a plastic or non-recyclable material.
Sadly, “Americans dispose of some 10 million metric tons of glass annually. Most of it ends up in the trash. Only about one-third gets recycled.” Government policies and consumer education hinder our ability to make better choices when it comes to recycling glass. Other countries have been able to shift their habits by recycling 90% of glass materials. The US has a lot of catching up to do.
Our recycling system across the United States is not a well thought out system, and it often leaves all of us confused and unaware of mistakes we are making and the consequences that come with these mistakes.
One mistake often leads to whole truckloads of toxic plastics getting dumped in the landfill. This issue can no longer remain out of sight and out of mind. The recycling mistakes that we have been making every year need to get resolved. And the only way to do that is with a better education.
Most food waste can be composted, including fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags. Meat, bones, and dairy products should be avoided in home composting.