What We Don’t Know…

Plastic recycling
On Friday I published a list of what can theoretically be recycled, cleverly titled “What Can Be Recycled.” I must reiterate the fact that it’s all down to what your local Materials Recovery Facility, (MRF) can and cannot accept.

Almost everyone I know assumes that they know the rules of recycling and almost no one I know does. Plastic recycling can be especially tricky and we can’t just throw things into the blue bin willy nilly. I’ve noticed that many of my friends put things in the recycling bin based upon what they think should be recycled. Sample conversation:

Me – “This can’t be recycled.” Holding a number 6 plastic container.

Friend – “Sure it can. It’s plastic. Look, there’s the little arrowy thing.” Holding a number 6 plastic container.

Me – “It’s plastic, but it’s number 6 plastic, which they don’t take.”

Friend – “I put those in all the time. Obviously they take them.”

Me – “How is that obvious? If it’s something they don’t take they just send it to landfill.”

Friend – “Fine, if they want to send it to landfill, it’s on them.”

And there is the crux of it. We want to believe that it’s being recycled and if it’s not, we don’t really want to know. It’s like cheating on our taxes, here are my receipts do what you want with them. We’re willing to recycle maybe even compost, but please lay off the details just tell me where to wheel the bin on Tuesdays.

Look, I know it sounds hair-splity, but things that seem perfectly benign can cause recycling facilities endless headaches. The Boulder County Recycling Center in Colorado can’t take shredded paper because there is no way for their conveyor sorting system to recognize it. Once it’s wet, it actually jams their whatsis. Other MRFs have no problem with it. I used to flatten my tinfoil, but that actually makes it far less recognizable to the sorting machines. It’s better to ball it up. Don’t flatten plastic containers completely either. If they lose their third dimension, they are mistaken for paper by the machines. These are just examples. Find out if your MRF has rules about colors of plastic and/or glass, standards of cleanliness – should all yogurt be rinsed from the plastic container? How much shampoo residue is ok? Obviously, if it has to be too clean you may end up wasting more water than it’s worth.

Getting back to the imaginary conversation that opened this post:

This is the universal recycling symbolInternational Recyling Symbol
This is the resin identification code PETEwhich is used to indicate the predominant plastic material used in manufacture. The purpose of this symbol is to assist recyclers with sorting the collected materials, but it does not necessarily mean that the product/packaging can be recycled through domestic curbside collection.

What’s my point? The resin identification code doesn’t tell you that the material is recyclable, but it does provide the information you need to know if your local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) will take it. MRFs usually provide detailed instructions on what they can and cannot recycle. It is then up to us to keep our recycling free of unsuitable materials.

Not enough education is provided to consumers about the specifics in their area and we consequently throw things in the recycling bin that not only don’t get recycled, they contaminate the sorting process and cause reusable materials to be land filled. Let’s not do that.

Circular Reasoning

So Pretty (640x434)

on 2014/04/16 Judith Barr wrote:

So, cleaning my apartment, throwing out expired eggs or groceries and my used tissues only cleans my space while contributing to landfill proliferation? Trash is inevitable and polluting even our oceans. How about launching those trash barges into space? But then the refuse from the launch pollutes the stratosphere. Do I sense circular reasoning?

I’m not sure about circular reasoning, but everything we produce and use certainly circles back to us. Before we start launching things into space maybe we could just rethink our relationship with stuff. If we were to accept the fact that much of what we buy will still be around in a thousand years it might just change what we buy.


Dispose (di-spohz) to place suitably or in order, disposed the troops in two lines. dispose of, to get rid of; to deal with.
Rid (rid) to free from something unpleasant or unwanted. get rid of, to cause to go away.


Circular reasoning indeed, we’re back to away. So, how to solve this problem? Well I hate to mention it, but what if instead of solving it we just stopped creating it?

But, but, but I like my paper towels and scrubbing bubbles and single-serving boxes of juice, not to mention my new computer and my big screen TV. I know, so do I. Whattodo? This is where we get into that dangerous no man’s land of stark, ugly facts that no one wants to think about. How much do we like our TVs and how much do we like the ocean?

The purpose of this blog, I’m pretty sure, is to try and identify changes that I can live with that shrink my garbage footprint fairly significantly with the obnoxious implied message that if I can do it, you can do it. It is of equal importance to continue a dialogue about the thornier issues like how much we consume and industrial waste streams and why the weather is getting weirder and weirder.

We now have a page dedicated to the most basic rules governing single-stream, curbside recycling and we’re adding links to resources for recycling stuff that can’t go in the curbside bin.

Just Draw Me A Map

20140131_145118There is no curbside blue cart recycling at my building. In Chicago the Department of Streets and Sanitation provides bi-weekly recycling for single family homes and multi-unit buildings with four or fewer units. I live in a 9 unit building. I used to take my recycling over to a neighborhood drop off center, but they closed it. I don’t completely blame them I mean I saw people dumping old furniture there, possibly bodies, who knows? But they didn’t leave any information on other options and being a sometimes unfocused person I accomplished as much of the task as I could. I threw the recycling in my car.

Time passed and I threw more recycling in my car. I had to move it around all the time to accommodate passengers, while assuring them that it wasn’t garbage. Okay I guess, but I mean if someone’s getting a ride in your car do they really have a right to question you about the quality of the accommodations? When someone passed up a ride in my car in favor of the bus, in January, in Chicago, I realized that it wasn’t them acting weird, it was me. I was garbage-car woman. This is the really embarrassing part, all I did was google recycling Chicago and I got a list of Chicago Recycling Drop Off Centers. The one closest to me is like really close. But see I didn’t know that. I’m willing to cooperate. I just need totally explicit instructions and zero obstacles.

Wherever you are you should be able to find a recycling center nearby. Maybe not in like Montana, I don’t know, Google it. I’m sorry I can’t give out information for the whole country. I will list all of the local resources I discover. Chicago’s is above. If drop off recycling won’t work for you for whatever reason you can have a recycling program instituted in your greater than 4 unit building in Chicago. The program has some requirements, there’s some paperwork and you’ll need the cooperation of your neighbors. Recycling for Multi-Unit Residential Buildings link.

I’m trying to gain admittance to a Recycling Sorting Facility also known as a Material Recovery Facility or MRF. Actually, my goal is to get me and my video camera in. So far I haven’t received an invitation, but I will pester and annoy until something happens. It is an even more daunting task to get in to see a landfill site, it’s like asking to see The Ark of the Covenant. I will report my findings.

I’m photographing my garbage as promised. In the meantime my trash can is videoing itself.

Garbage, it’s unpleasant

Morning Trash

I’ve never thought too much about garbage. I mean it’s bad and there’s too much of it, right? I didn’t see the connection to me, per se. But then my cat, Fu, tore through an entire bag of garbage in the wee hours and more or less upholstered my kitchen with it.

On my way to the coffee maker Fu rubbed against my leg and left something behind, something viscous and wet. I’m not very astute pre-coffee. That’s an understatement. So I couldn’t begin to guess how my cat, usually soft and warm, was cold and slimy. My eyes had yet to focus. Then I felt a wet crunch beneath my foot and stood staring at my wet eggy sock trying to understand how an eggshell had gotten beneath it and what was happening to my life.

Garbage. It’s unpleasant. No one wants it around. I thought about all of the unpleasantness being produced in homes all around me and being carted off Godknowswhere. Even I know that when it comes to garbage there is no “away.” I realized that I wasn’t really mad at my cat so much as upset about how much garbage I was producing all by myself and the fact that it was now being brought to my attention. In other words I was going to have to think about it.

I hate thinking about stuff.

I’m not a crusader. I mean I have strong opinions, but I don’t actually do anything about them. I’m not really sure what to do about this, but it bothers me and it seems that the first order of business is to find out what and how much I’m throwing out.

So I’ve decided to photograph my garbage. Disgusting…yes, but it seems to me that part of the reason we produce so much garbage is because we don’t have to look at it. It’s magically hauled away by trucks, which if acknowledged at all are acknowledged for being too loud or blocking the alley. We are insanely spoiled.

What possible service could be rendered by garbage pics? I think a closer relationship with my trash will help me see how I can reduce it without making any huge changes. It’s not that I have anything against huge changes. Ok, that’s a lie, but I really believe that small changes might have a big impact and I don’t think the average person is willing to make huge changes at the drop of a hat. Just because I had this garbage epiphanette doesn’t mean everyone wants to cancel their newspaper and quit drinking beer.

I’ll start my experiment tomorrow morning with empty trash receptacles. I’m not going to change my lifestyle. In fact, I will resist any urge to produce less garbage. I want an accurate record of what I throw out in a typical week. I’ll photograph every item going into the trash or the recycling bin and the sum total at the end of the week. And then we will see what’s what. I want to apologize in advance for what you’re going to see. Just so you know I’m a type A. I would wash the garbage before showing it to you if I could.

Remorse The Perp