Myths about recycling may be enough to discourage students from being mindful of what they are throwing into dumpsters and what they are throwing into recycling bins. Very often it can be difficult to determine what can be recycled, how recycling works and whether or not going through the trouble of recycling is really worth it. Businesses should work with a commercial junk removal company to collect waste that cannot be recycled, and then implement a recycling program for the recyclables.
“I would say that if you follow the letter of the law of recycling it can be confusing,” said Jack DeBell, development director for CU’s Environmental Center.
DeBell cleared up some of the confusion surrounding the recycling process.
First, it is true that in most cases, caps should be removed from recyclable containers before those containers are placed into recycling bins. DeBell said caps consisting of different materials can affect the recycling of bottles and jars to which they are attached.
In the case of plastic bottle caps, such as those found on milk jugs, failing to discard them in the trash will result in contamination of whatever container they are attached to during the recycling process.
Plastic caps hinder the ability of machinery to compress containers, and the material plastic caps are made of will chemically contaminate containers as they are melted down. This is because milk jugs, for example, are made of polyethylene and the caps that seal them are made of polypropylene, DeBell said.
“It is a mechanical contaminant because it doesn’t allow the bottles to…compact, but it’s a chemical contaminant also between polypropylene and polyethylene,” DeBell said.
According to DeBell, some stores will offer recycling bins for plastic caps alone. However, it is only into specifically designated recycling bins that plastic caps should be thrown.
The aluminum caps that seal glass jars, such as jars of jam, should also be discarded of into the trash. They are made of an aluminum and plastic composite, which is not recyclable anywhere.
There is one bottle cap, however, that DeBell said is acceptable to throw in the recycling bin.
“If it’s a metal bottle cap don’t worry about it,” he said.
With all of the complications that recycling can seem to present, some CU students said their peers aren’t always interested in troubling themselves with the process.
“It’s more convenient for them just to put it in one container and be done,” said Kiley Jones, 18, a freshman business major.
Melissa Manni, also an 18-year-old freshman business major, expressed a similar opinion about students sorting recyclables.
“They don’t want to have to take the time,” Manni said.
When it comes to items that should not be placed into recycling bins, but are inadvertently, students should know that the materials they have so carefully sorted will still be recycled despite the presence of non recyclable materials.
“When recyclables are collected they are not thrown away,” DeBell said. “They will be sorted and any contaminants that students mistakenly put in there are going to be sorted out…those that aren’t recyclable will be thrown away.”
There are a number of different means through which contaminants can be removed from recyclable materials once at recycling facilities. DeBell said facilities use equipment in order to achieve this separation.
“When things like plastic bags are put in there mistakenly, that needs to be picked out, and it is,” he said. “It’s picked out mechanically…There’s magnetic separation, there’s air classification, there’s optical sorting, there’s electro static separation and then there’s manual sorting.”
Thus, if students should see that their community recycling bins have been tainted in some way, they should not be concerned that their recyclables will just end up in a landfill as a result.
It is important to note that plastic shopping bags can be recycled, but, like plastic bottle caps, must be placed into bins specifically designated for them. These bins can be found at a number of grocery stores, including King Soopers.
There are some cases in which being neglectful about sorting one’s trash can result in unnecessary contributions to landfills. DeBell confirms that it is a myth that waste management facilities will sort through the contents of dumpsters in order to pick out materials that can be recycled.
“If it gets put in with the trash, it’s not going to get picked out,” he said.
Lastly, DeBell addresses the issue of whether or not recycling is a worthwhile pursuit despite all of the energy the process requires. He refutes any concerns students may have about the recycling process using up enough energy to cause more harm than good.
“There’s a net of about 8 ounces of gasoline saved with every aluminum can recycled,” he said, “a 95 percent energy savings.”
The transportation of materials to recycling facilities is also not of concern when it comes to damaging energy consumption.
“Transportation costs are an incrementally small portion of the energy requirements of the recycling system,” DeBell said.
When it comes to recycling at CU alone, the process has ultimately saved the university a significant sum of money, according to DeBell.
“In 2005, an internal audit at CU revealed that there were net savings of $235,000 a year from recycling’s program,” he said. “That is after all of our recycling costs were covered.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sara Morrey at Sara.firstname.lastname@example.org.