As environmental awareness has grown, so have greater opportunities to recycle. Recycling is incorporated into the waste management systems of most every town in the U.S., and what can be recycled has expanded due to changes in technology and marketing.
Justine Fallon of the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection said that even within the last year, changes have occurred. “Aerosols used to be a safety issue (for workers). Some of the procedures in how the materials are baled now have brought about less concern,” said Fallon.
It is always a good idea to check with your local department of public works regarding what can be recycled where you live. There is a range of differences in each recycling plant as to what they will recycle, but you might be closer to going waste-free than you think.
Here's a list of 14 items you used to have to throw in the trash, but can now be recycled in many areas:
1. Water filters
Water filters are composed of a mixture of materials. It’s always good to check with the company’s website to see if they have recycling capability. For example, Brita has a recycling program. If you send dry, plastic-wrapped used filters back to them, Brita will recycle the plastic portion into such items as tooth brushes, cups and cutting boards. The carbon filter and ion exchange resin contained in the filter is converted into energy. Brita will even recycle the plastic bag and box you send the filters in.
2. Pizza boxes
Food and grease contamination is the primary reason pizza boxes were unacceptable for recycling. Many recycling plants will now accept the box, as long as there is no grease or cheese on it, but not the insert the pizza sits on.
Some recycling plants accept receipt material and some don’t. Today, many businesses use thermal paper, which is reactive to heat in the machine/cash register it’s being used in. The heat darkens the ink on the receipt. Thermal paper is impregnated with a variety of chemicals which often makes it unacceptable for recycling. Regular paper receipts are naturally fine to recycle. You can tell the difference between the two types of receipt paper, as thermal paper is usually shiny.
4. Metal and plastic bottle caps
All metal caps from soft drink and beer bottles are recyclable. Most of these types of caps are made of steel. Previously, the thin layer of polyethethylene (that plastic bit lining the cap) made it difficult to recycle. Now the layer of plastic is burned off during processing.
Many plants now accept plastic bottles with the caps on. Previously, leaving the caps on the bottles was unacceptable because the caps are a different type of plastic from the bottle. Mixing the two plastics in the melting process would create a lower quality material.
5. Wine corks
Cork can’t be recycled curb-side, but a company called Terracycle will recycle cork to be made into corkboards. You can request a mailer from the company (for 15 lbs. of cork at a time). Also, most Whole Foods Markets accept corks for recycling.
A few other items you can now often recycle:
6. The wire from around wine bottles
7. Aluminum screw tops
8. Plastic stoppers
9. Plastic and metal reusable drinking bottles
10. Clean plastic zipper bags
11. Plastic straws
12. CD/cassette cases
13. Plastic cutlery
14. Phone books.
Many towns provide routine information regarding recycling via mail and Web sites. Check with your DPW at least annually for any changes and new items to recycle. "Every plant is a little bit different. It all depends on the market and who they are selling it to,” said Fallon.