Dear EcoNews

Dear EcoNews, 

Today was garbage day, and much like every other garbage day, my standard refuse was taken away without a hitch. My recycling container, though, was still full and It had a notice dangling from the handle.  It appears that some non recyclable items had somehow found their way into the bin, and I was being urged to inspect and rectify the situation.  Things have changed, and I don’t like it or understand it. Is it even worth it to recycle? Should I just try to reduce and reuse instead? Help me understand why it has become such a mess.  Also, what is the deal with compostable plastic cups and silverware? Is that for real?


A Confused Recycler


Dear Confused Recycler,

The short answer is “yes” to the questions regarding reducing, re-using and recycling.  Reducing and re-using is what we suggest to do first.  Recycling is still much better than landfilling but has become challenging since many countries overseas have refused, and rightly so, to take recycling shipments from the United States.  The reason being is that recycling overseas contained too much contamination.  That resulted in recycling facilities, like the one in Samoa, having to retrofit the equipment and hire more people to sort through recycling to ensure it is clean enough to be sold to markets who in turn, make the materials into something else.  The new recycling processing method is much more effective, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

There are several educational opportunities the community uses to get recycling cleaner.  The one you encountered is a method that tells people how to use their recycling receptacles to meet today’s tighter standards. It is called an “oopsie tag”.  The driver leaves a tag on the can to let the user know what was found that can no longer be placed in the recycling.  We are always willing to come back, once removed, if you call the office. 

In general we ask people to do the following things:  Make sure there is no trash or food remaining on or in the recycling.  Please rinse as best you can before placing the item into the recycling.  Please place pizza or wax covered boxes into the trash.  Grease and wax cannot be removed through re-pulping of paper. Please, no wishful recycling.  Wishful recycling includes appliances, car parts, kitchen utensils, extension cords, furniture, clothing, garden hoses, film plastic, Styrofoam, plastic bags and baggies, etc. And please, only bags of shredded paper.  Recycling should be placed loosely into the recycling can.  If people did these things, it would help a lot. is a good resource if there are questions about what folks can do with their waste.

We send the recycling to markets we research from Recology. We try to market it domestically when possible, but because the US has little infrastructure, it mostly goes to Asia.  Depending on what material it is there can be several steps, and sometimes processing plants, before it’s made into another product. We’ve been one of the few who have been able to sell paper to China (after we installed machinery: they have very high standards now. That’s why clean at the curbside is important 

Hope this helps.

Linda Wise, General Manager of Recology

Do you have an ecological question? Is there an environmental issue you’d like to know more about? Send your query to and we will find an expert who can answer your question.