Contamination takes toll in recycling

By Brandon Hearn

Recycling is important because it saves resources by taking materials and making them into new products instead of using virgin resources.

Aluminum cans are made into new aluminum cans, and so on. But that requires us to recycle the cans the right way.

When we put things in our recycle bin that don’t belong there, they can get caught in equipment at the recycling facility and contaminate the good recyclables (clean paper and cardboard), causing them to go to the landfill instead of being recycled. When recycling programs can’t recycle the materials and must spend money cleaning it up instead, recycling becomes more expensive and recycling programs can’t survive.

We can all play a part in cleaning up recycling and keeping usable materials out of the landfill.

As a response to the growing issue of contamination in recycling and the need for residents to correctly recycle, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (DHE) developed an education campaign called “Recycle Right.” The campaign provides direct feedback to residents about the materials that shouldn’t be in their recycle bins. For example, glass that can be recycled elsewhere or Styrofoam that belongs in the trash.

DHE recently completed this campaign in the city of Westwood and saw a large reduction in contamination. A Recycle Right campaign now is planned in the city of Mission. DHE is still looking for other cities and homeowner associations to partner with.

The most common contaminants we observed were:

1.Plastic bags, product wrap, Ziploc bags, shrink wrap, Amazon pouches - Plastic grocery bags, product overwrap and similar items can be returned to grocery stores for recycling.

2. Bagged recycling - Bagged recyclables will end up going to the landfill/trash. The best thing to do is leave all your recyclables loose in the bin. Use a paper grocery bag to collect them and then dump them in the recycle bin instead.

3. Paper towels and Kleenex (trash).

4. Other contaminants - Styrofoam (trash), glass (take to Ripple Glass), greasy pizza boxes, straws (goes in the trash), no food waste.

What can I recycle? - stick to these items and if you have any questions contact me at [email protected] 913-715-6936 or follow us on Facebook-Johnson County Recycles.

1. Cardboard and paperboard (cereal boxes, etc.)

2. Mail, newspaper, office paper, magazines and catalogs - no need to remove the plastic windows

3. Aluminum cans, steel (tin) cans, aluminum foil - ball up your aluminum foil so it doesn’t get confused for paper

4. Plastic bottles and containers (drink bottles, shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, etc.) - Have a #1-7 inside arrow symbol on the container, rinse out first.

Brandon Hearn is environmental health specialist at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.