5 Items That Don’t Get Recycled Properly

Having recycling bins present at every turn may not be enough to get the correct materials to the right recycling facilities. Here are five common items that rarely get recycled properly.

1.) #1 PET Thermoform

The clear clam shells used for carryout, fruit, baked goods and other food items is also known as  #1 PET thermoform. Although the clamshells say #1, #1 PET thermoform is not the same as a #1 bottle, which causes much confusion. According to The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers  (APR), the nation’s leading plastics recycling group,  they cannot be recycled the same way as #1 rigid plastics. While these clamshells can be seen in single stream recycling bins ALL the time, they must be heated at a different temperature and like the other plastic resins, they must be recycled separately. Because clamshells come in all shapes, sizes and materials, it is difficult to train personnel at recycling centers how to sort the packages by material type from visual cues inherent in package design.

Additionally, a large amount of these clamshells usually have some type of adhesive sticker attached. When this adhesive cannot be removed, which is the majority of the time, the container cannot be recycled. For all of these reasons, there is little demand for them.

Recently, some grants have been given to encourage the recycling of thermoform PET, but so far no significant progress has been made.

Although there are no current solutions for the #1 PET thermoform, alternative energy companies are increasingly  looking to MRF (Material Recovery Facility) “plastic residue” to make plastic-derived fuel, and there may be a solution in the near future. So, as with dual stream, the plastics labeled #1 & #2 will be recycled and the #3-#7’s from single stream facilities will be burned for energy.

To learn more about the recycling symbols and numbers on plastics check out this article from The Daily Green.

2.  Full Wrap Shrink Labels

Though a great way for brands to market themselves, full wrap shrink labels are a recycler’s nightmare.  The sleeves obscure the optical sorting technology (NIR or “near infrared”) resulting in incorrect resin identification and they’re difficult to remove using current automated label-removal technology. As a result, perfectly recyclable bottles end up being rejected as contaminants and don’t get recycled or worse, contaminate an entire load.

Recognizing the growing concern related to the rapid growth of full wrap shrink sleeve labels in the marketplace, APR, has formed a Label Working Group in an effort to focus on the recycler’s perspective on the problem.

An update on the status of the label working group and their findings will be delivered at the 2013 APR meeting in Baltimore, MD, June 11th -13th.

3.) Batteries

According to earth 911, Americans throw out almost 180,000 tons of batteries each year, most of them single-use.

Because some batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, it is not encouraged to dispose of them along with your regular trash. Because the chemicals in batteries can leach into soil and contaminate groundwater, recycling is always the best option for disposing of them.

  • Lead-Acid Car Batteries can then be recycled and used to manufacture new products. About 96 percent of lead-acid car batteries are recycled. According to Mother Nature Network, most retailers of car batteries, such as AutoZone and Advance Auto Parts, collect and recycle car batteries for free.

  • Dry-Cell Batteries are used in a variety of electronics and can be dropped off at a household hazardous waste facility or you can participate in the many mail-in or take-back programs that are available. Some stores like Best Buy, Staples and Office Depot have drop off boxes for used batteries. For more drop off locations near you, check out Earth 911’s recycling solution locator.

As an alternative to recycling batteries, start using rechargeable ones instead. Consumers will not only save money but also ensure single use batteries are no longer taking up space in landfills.

4.) Cell Phones

On average, North Americans buy a new cell phone every 18 to 24 months, which makes old phones—many that contain hazardous materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants and arsenic—the fastest growing type of manufactured garbage in the United States. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans discard 125 million phones each year, creating 65,000 tons of waste.

Instead of lining landfills with your old mobile devices, why not make some cash? There are many programs and companies willing to pay your for your old phones. Some service providers, such as Sprint, accept your old phone as part of a buyback program and sites like Recellular give you an offer based on the condition of the phone you’re trying to sell. Charities like Phones For Charity and Cell Phones For Soldiers are also great options for disposing of your old phone. Additionally, just like with used batteries, there are numerous convenient drop off sites for old cell phones. No matter which option you choose, it’s better than adding to the growing number of phones taking up precious space in our nation’s landfills.

5.) Fluorescent Light Bulbs

When fluorescent light bulbs are improperly discarded, the small amounts of mercury found within them seep into the solid waste stream.

Businesses’ management and disposal of fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury-containing bulbs are regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Universal Waste Rule (UWR) and Subtitle C hazardous waste regulations.

To find local drop off sites, check out Lamp Recycle where you’ll find your closest light bulb drop-off location (it might even be as convenient as The Home Depot ). The mercury will be captured and reused for new bulbs.

With so many easy and convenient ways to recycle these materials, there’s no reason why landfills should be piling up. To find local drop off locations for any materials you wish to recycle, check out Earth911.com’s recycling solution locator.

Image sources: PET Thermoform, Batteries, Cell Phones and Fluorescent Light Bulbs.