Metals are elements that start out as rocks called ores. It takes a lot of energy to mine, grind, and heat them to get the parts we want. This process is very energy intensive and invasive to our Earth. To reduce this environmental impact, recycling metals is important.
However, NOT all metal can go into your curbside recycling cart! The only metals accepted curbside are clean aluminum and steel food-based items. These items include steel soup, vegetable, and pet food cans. Also accepted are aluminum beverage cans, foil, and other disposable aluminum cooking tins.
It’s important to remember that most recycling facilities are designed to capture items disposed of with regularity. So, aside from the steel and aluminum items mentioned above, other metals cannot be recycled curbside. This is because it is unlikely to be identified and sorted properly, and because of the danger it poses to the recycling workers and automated sorting machinery. While magnets and sorters may capture some items, small parts and sharp objects can be hidden. This contributes to dangerous work conditions and contamination.
Items that are not food related containers are considered "scrap metal”. These metals include copper, steel, brass, and iron. Examples of these scrap metals include lawn mowers, snow blowers, metal grills, bicycles, cast iron sinks/bathtubs, metal fencing, metal car parts, furniture, chains, etc.
Generally, there are two options for recycling scrap metal:
- Option 1: Bring your unwanted metals to a local scrap metal recycler. It’s always a good idea to call first to check availability.
- Option 2: If you do not have a way to transport scrap metal to a recycling facility, call your garbage hauler or a scrap metal recycler to see if they offer local pickup.
A helpful app to locate a scrapyard near you is the iScrap App.
If it lights up, moves, or makes noise, it has a BATTERY! Now what?
Have you noticed that many household items light up, move, or make noise? If so, they contain a battery, and those batteries are likely rechargeable.
Batteries are designed to pack a lot of energy into a tiny space. Many batteries are similar to child who eats to much candy and ends up "exploding" with the energy that is trapped within. Similarly, when batteries become overcharged, discharged to quickly, or damaged, they too can explode - literally. A particular culprit in this category of batteries are the lithium chemistries. From the tiniest buttons to the larger blocks, these batteries come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. This can often make them challenging to identify.
Where do we find these batteries? Everywhere! Cell phones, computers, tablets, radios, power tools, smoke detectors, power banks, remote controls, light up shoes, bikes and scooters, gaming systems, musical cards, electric toothbrushes, e-cigarette and vape devices, watches, ear buds, hobby toys (rc cars, drones, planes, etc), and children's toys are just on the list of common locations for lithium chemistry batteries.
These batteries enhance our lives, but with such convenience comes responsibility. Purchase devices that have been tested and listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory and batteries from a trusted retailer. Keep lithium chemistry batteries out of direct sunlight, away from sources of heat, and always follow manufacturer protocol.
Most often we can use these batteries over and over again without issue. However, if you notice an odd odor, discoloration, or the battery begins to change shape, that could be a sign of danger. Do not spray a lithium battery with water. Instead, bury the battery in a bucket with sand, kitty litter, or potting soil and dispose of it properly.
While recycling plain old alkaline batteries is preferred (through a special collection - not curbside), they are eligible material for the landfill. However, NO OTHER TYPE OF BATTERY CAN GO INTO THE GARBAGE OR RECYCLING BIN! Putting other chemistries of batteries, especially the lithium batteries into either bin is extremely dangerous. They MUST be packaged appropriately and brought to a special collection point.
The good news? All SWANCC communities are eligible to be part of a battery take-back program that includes all chemistries of batteries, including alkaline! This program has no additional cost to residents. Check with your community to see if this program is available to you. If not, encourage them to take part!
If your community does not participate in SWANCC's battery takeback program, you still have other options. Check out:
Search SWANCC's Reuse and Recycling Directory for more options!
Can I recycle plastic bags? Can I recycle plastic shipping packaging? Can I recycle plastic wrap?
Plastic bags and wraps DO NOT go in curbside recycling bins.
Plastic bags and wraps DO go to participating retail store recycling bins.
But why can't it go into the curbside cart? The short answer is that they gum up the works. Stretchy plastic bags and wraps often get stuck in the sorting equipment. Then, workers must shut down the machinery to cut and yank out the contamination. This can be dangerous, and it's a waste of time, money, and material.
Can I put my recyclables in a plastic bag and toss it all into my curbside bin?
Like other plastic bags and wraps, that plastic trash bag holding your recyclables gums up the works (see above). All recyclables must go into your curbside bin loose (i.e., not in a bag).
Can I put my recyclables in a paper bag and toss it all into my curbside bin?
Even though the paper bag can be recycled too, restraining recyclable items prevents them from being sorted properly. They must be loose to be identified in the sorting process.
If you do collect your recyclables in a plastic or paper bag, dump the recyclables out of the bag into your curbside bin and reuse the bag if you can!
Foil paper, ribbons, bows, and bags...Ooh my! NO, NO, NO!
One of the most common mistakes is tossing garbage bags full of wrapping paper into the recycle bin. While most wrapping paper is recyclable, placing it all in a bag removes it from the stream. Remember, everything that goes into your recycle bin MUST BE LOOSE - NO BAGS!
Think twice when purchasing wrapping paper. In order to qualify for recycling, it must be 100% paper. So, the rolls that sparkle, or have shiny foil mixed in are NOT eligible for the recycle bin.
We also need to watch out for the ribbon and bows that comes along with the wrapping paper, as those are tanglers. They get caught up in the mechanics, bog down the system, and can shut down the entire sorting line.
All paper has the best chance of being sorted properly if it is folded, not crumpled into a ball.
So, when recycling wrapping paper, remember:
- No foil or sparkly paper in recycling
- No ribbons, string, or bows in recycling
- No bags - loose material only in recycling
- Flatten, don't crumble the paper
Boxes, boxes, boxes...Everything we buy, or order, seems to be packaged in boxes!
The good news is that cardboard and paper boxes can be recycled. While you can leave tape and labels on the box, it is important that boxes are CLEAN, DRY....AND FLATTENED!
It’s important to keep your cardboard boxes clean and dry because contaminated or wet items will affect the integrity of the material and may end up thrown away since saturated cardboard is difficult to recycle.
Why do we flatten boxes and not other items?
In single stream recycling, the burden of mechanically sorting accurately is on the materials recovery facility (MRF) and is determined by the composition of each material. Containers should be kept in their original shape for the best chance of proper mechanical sorting. For example, if a container is in an unfamiliar shape, like a crushed can or water bottle, then it may be mistaken as something different, sorted incorrectly, and contaminate other materials.
Cardboard & corrugated boxes not only take up valuable space when not flattened, but they too are identified by their shape and the only consistent shape for boxes of all kinds is FLAT. So, if you care enough to recycle those boxes in the first place, then take the time to flatten them and keep them dry by closing the lid on your cart.