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We all know the drill: Reduce, reuse, recycle. But there may be a bit of confusion on that last part. Even the most seasoned ecoista can be stumped by a bottle cap or a straw. Does it go in the blue bin or the black? If I'm recycling, do I need to wash it first?
You're in luck: We've got answers to some of the most common recycling questions that EcoStiletto's editors get asked on a daily basis.
1. What do those arrows and numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles mean?
That's the "chasing arrow" symbol, and the number in the middle indicates the type of plastic the container is made from. Typically, numbers one and two are the most widely recyclable plastics, but there are exceptions: For example, one through seven are recyclable in the City of Phoenix, but in Scottsdale (a suburb of Phoenix), they only take one (polyethylene terephthalate or PET, used for soda bottles) and two (high-density polyethylene or HDPE, used for milk and detergent bottles). Some recycling programs even take Stryofoam!
2. Why should I wash out my recycling?
First, to remove possible contaminants, and, second, to keep your recycling bin from getting stinky. However, you won't prevent a can from being recycled if you leave it dirty.
3. Can I recycle small pieces of paper-like facial tissues?
Facial tissue can’t be recycled. The fibers are too weak to be turned into usable paper. And tissue is often contaminated with oils that make them unable to be recycled — the same problem is inherent in trying to recycle paper towels.
4. What about plastic bags?
Plastic bags can be recycled. However, unlike plastic bottles, many curbside programs will not accept plastic bags. Because they're so light, these bags can get stuck inside machinery during the recycling process. The good news is that many major grocery chains now accept plastic bags and plastic wrap at their stores. Look for special bins outside. Or, better yet, decline the bag and carry a reusable one!
5. Can I recycle small pieces of plastic? What about bottle caps?
Yes, you can recycle small pieces of plastic like bottle tops. Bottle caps are metal, but they're typically lined with plastic — items made from mixed materials can't be recycled because the materials can't be separated. Same thing goes for juice boxes and coated cardboard drink containers — although there are new versions specially marked for recycling or composting, which are indicated on the label.
6. I'm buying a soda. Bottle or can?
Can, definitely. Most cans contain 50% or more recycled aluminum. And a used aluminum can is recycled and back on the grocery shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days.
But wait, there's more! Find the full list of what you can and can't recycle in your bathroom, closet, and office at EcoStiletto.com.
Copyright 2010, Shoestring Magazine and Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff.