By Bonita Davis, Master Recycler

How recycling gets done in any household can be a bit tricky. Does recycling fall on one person or are many hands involved? When several are contributing to the blue roll cart, how does one know if your household is getting the recycling right? This may take ingenuity and/or monitoring.

Recently, a longtime friend I’ll refer to as Katy came down for an extended stay. Katy lives in a picturesque coastal community on Puget Sound and loves the tiny house she calls home.

Environmentally aware, she has trained and worked as a chef and baker. After assessing how much I enjoyed her meals, eyeing the ample counter space and sizing up the empty freezer space, Katy shyly asked if she could whip up some ready to go ready-to-go freezer meals for me as a gift. I jumped at the offer! Katy did the menus and shopping and I picked up the bill.

The next few days were a whirl as smells from savory entrees to vegetable sides and nut breads emanated from my kitchen. Meals were neatly sealed and labeled for the freezer.

Right away “What do I do with this?” became a frequent question about packaging recycling. Katy’s interest was cooking, and her community has different guidelines for recycling – no beverage container refunds and no nearby options for plastic films or Styrofoam.

We came up with a hybrid system: food scraps in the stainless canister on the counter and all empty cans, bottles, cartons, bags and wrappers into a designated dishpan in the sink.

My job was to manage the materials in the dishpan by emptying and rinsing cans, bottles and jars, removing lids and caps, separating dime deposits for the BottleDrop green bag in the garage, and sorting paper, cardboard and plastic cartons into the recycling bin under the sink.

I made sure non-recyclables such as used paper towels, plastic tubs in the wrong shape or size and flat plastic lids made it in the bin.

Empty, rinsed and dry stretchy plastic film went to my “bag of bags” in the garage for return to a collection bin at either Safeway or Fred Meyer.

The system that seems so simple and straightforward to me was not so for my guest.

Recycling materials in the dishpan took just minutes on my trips through the kitchen. Even better, Katy was able to stay focused on the cooking she enjoyed and the shared adventure was fun and stress-free for both of us.

Using a bussing bin system is something that has also worked well at parties.

Guests simply placed durable dishes, glasses, utensils and cloth napkins on a tray or bin with cans and bottles on the side. It can be sorted later and  beats contaminated recycling and fishing out durables from the trash. In the end, it can save time.

In this pandemic, many are cooking more at home and have more materials to manage for recycling. Kids might be home from college or extended family may be sharing the household. Finding out who is interested in recycling and doing it correctly is important.

Investing time to create or review your system and parceling out tasks based on both interest and ability can lead to getting recycling right. Get information at RecycleOrNot.org, plasticfilmrecycling.org and bottledropcenters.com.

Any time of the year is a great time to engage kids of any age in some fun environmentally focused at-home activities.

Environment Oregon has 50 great activities on topics such as climate change, waste reduction, plants, waterways, conservation, birds, bees and wildlife, as well as creating a healthier home and community. Go to environmentoregon.org for info.

Concerned about the re-emergence of onetime use plastics, despite current laws? Check out what efforts are being made by advocacy group Eco-Cycle at ecocycle.salsalabs.org/august2020newsletter.

Paper items contaminated with food–coffee filters, tea bags, paper towels and pizza delivery boxes–go into your green compost roll cart.

Items contaminated with cleaners or other substances are garbage and go into the waste bin. This includes wipe products, facial tissues, paper plates and cups and paper carry-out containers other than pizza delivery boxes.