By Bonita Davis, SE Resident and Master Recycler
Recycling is a feel good activity for me associated with doing my small part to reduce waste bound for the landfill and conserving natural resources. Perhaps it is for you, too.
Over time I have shifted to an emphasis on actions that have an even greater impact, such as reducing my consumption of “stuff” by borrowing, and sharing, repairing and opting for high quality durability when buying new or used products.
Still, I want 2021 to be a year I recycle right.
How do you know you’re not getting it right? I thought I was doing curbside recycling correctly and I read the summer and winter Curbsider guide to stay informed.
I know to never put plastic bags or film in the blue rollcart and that all items are to be clean and dry. Also, no Styrofoam, no caps or lids on containers, no food, no compostables and no take-out containers.
Reusable goods need to go to a favorite charity or resale and not into garbage or recycling rollcarts.
So, it’s easy enough to just read recycling directions and look at the illustrations, right? I can still feel my cheeks redden and the gulp that followed several years ago when I realized my error in recycling paper. Paper!
In a discussion with a Master Recycler about the curbside program, it dawned on me that paper items designed to hold food or liquids were reinforced or lined with plastic and are not recyclable.
I had been wrong on ‘paper’ plates, disposable coffee cups and paper boxes that hold refrigerator and freezer foods such as frozen dinners, pizza, microwave meals, margarine, butter, etc.
Why not recycle these? Because added plastic increases the strength and water resistance of this paper packaging.
Additionally, residue from food and liquids contaminates them and everything they touch, creating even more waste in the cart that has now become trash for the landfill. This was the opposite of my intentions.
Checking my Curbsider, it was clear I had glossed over this information several times and it had not registered.
Is my reading comprehension or memory that poor? Maybe I just really wanted to believe the material was recyclable.
It’s possible I didn’t think about it enough and after hearing the word “paper,” I took the easy route, omitting details and believing the obvious. Perhaps someone I believed told me it was okay. Maybe some of those containers were printed with a recycling emblem or message. Who knows?
Feedback could help. When Portland’s curbside program began in the early 1990’s, open yellow crates held our bundled newspapers and flattened tin cans. Open to the wind and rain, the garbage hauler who hand-carried the crate to the truck, could also survey for accuracy.
If your recycling was not done correctly, you got a checklist note telling you why. Chances are, your crate didn’t get emptied either.
Today, our much larger blue rollcarts have lids and most trucks are equipped with mechanical lifts that deposit contents into the truck without a human seeing it and the result is feedback is less likely to occur.
Using Metro’s Recycle Or Not tool (recycleornot.org and Instagram.com/recycleornot) is one way to double check recycling facts. While waiting for an appointment, I used my phone to access the website and clicked on each brightly colored frame to review what goes in and what stays out. In minutes, I got feedback verifying that I was on track.
I feel good to go for 2021 and anticipate possible big changes in package labeling from our state legislature. Hopefully we will also be seeing more durable, reusable packaging or Loop systems.
In the New Year, I encourage you to try out these great resources. It is never too late to do a better job recycling!
Portland Curbsider Hotline: 503.823.7202 or bit.ly/CurbsiderWinter2020
Metro Recycling Hotline: 503.234.3000 or oregonmetro.gov/findarecycler