COLUMN: Sherlock Holmes on the less waste case

By Alisa Reckinger

Guest Columnist

The who, what, when, where, why, and how of reduce, reuse and recycle can cause confusion. Shed some light on a few of the biggest mysteries of recycling and continue to refine your practices. Whether you consider your habits to be excellent or elementary, there are always ways to learn more about knowing what to throw.

The curious incident of the number in the triangle

If the item has triangular arrows with a number in the center of the symbol, then it must be recyclable, right? Not the case! The number in the triangle indicates what the item is made of, not it’s recyclability.

Going by the numbers with plastics reveals that not all items of the same material follow the same rules. For instance, shampoo bottles and plastic bags are both #2, but only shampoo bottles can go in the curbside bin. Plastic bags should be brought to a drop-off location. Generally speaking, plastic items labeled with a #1, #2, #4, or #5 are collected for home recycling. Some haulers accept other types of plastics, so ask if you aren’t sure.

Find ways to recycle as much as you can, but don’t wish cycle just because you see the triangular arrows symbol. Identify the plastic. Remember to never guess; it’s a shocking habit.

The adventure of the dumpster divers

What are people throwing away, and why? This is a mystery that Hennepin County sought to solve by doing a waste sort in May 2016. They wanted to figure out what is in the garbage and identify opportunities to reduce waste and increase recycling. Items were sorted into 55 different categories, allowing the county to identify exactly what was thrown away and where it came from. Their careful observations allowed them to deduce the following:

A large amount of cardboard and paper was found in the garbage. You can recycle more paper than you think and paper soiled with food, like napkins, can be placed in organics recycling or composted. Keep paper and cardboard out of the garbage can and reduce how much packaging you end up with by limiting junk mail and buying in bulk.

Food waste is by far the most common item found in the garbage. About 19 percent of the waste sorted was food. Use alternatives to throwing food in the garbage like composting or organics recycling. Check with your city on organics recycling options. Store food safely and don’t buy more than you can eat. Change behaviors and make a big impact! Another food-related mystery is dates on the label. Decipher dates on products and know the difference between sell by, use by and best by.

Recyclable items that could go to drop-off locations are ending up in the garbage. Not all recycling can be done at home. Items like batteries and plastic bags should not go in the garbage. Recycling items at drop-offs is a huge help to reducing the amount of waste thrown away. Items like clothing and textiles can be donated or possibly recycled in drop-off or collection programs. Make sure your items end up in the right place!

Eliminate the non-recyclable,

whatever remains must be recycled

It’s incredibly important to put items in the right place when it comes to waste. Keeping food and other compostable organics out of the garbage bin can provide a great resource for your garden or community. Recycling saves energy and helps the environment by conserving materials and reducing the amount of garbage in landfills. Find the most beneficial use for any item you may need to get rid of. Never make exceptions when it comes to wish cycling and gather the facts to help you solve all your recycling mysteries.

___

Minnesotans recycle over 2.3 million tons of paper, glass, metals, plastics, yard waste, and more each year, which create new products, such as cans, cardboard, newspaper, carpet, clothing and furniture. RethinkRecycling.com, provided by the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board, is your go-to guide for waste and recycling in the Twin Cities.