The Shafter Press - Serving the community since 1922

American Refuse 

Recycling blues


February 28, 2019 | View PDF

It was this time last year that America got a huge wakeup call with our “recycling.” China implemented their “national sword” -- otherwise known as the “China Ban” where they completely shut down accepting all U.S. recycling materials for an entire month. A year later, some may ask where we are now.

The tone has been set from last year. After the month-long shut down, things very slowly started to pick back up, but with stricter enforcement on contamination. For what used to be acceptable to send a recycling load with 10 percent contamination was dropped to .05 percent allowable contamination on recycling. Containers rejected at the port. Even entire ship loads sent back.

What does this mean for the consumer? Keeping our blue carts clean, without contaminating the loads with cloths, Household Hazardous Waste, shoes, diapers, electronics, dirty plastics (liquids still in them), dirty tin cans (food left in them/unrinsed), and plastic bags, amongst many other things we find in the recycling can that don’t belong there. The blue can is not meant to be an extra trash can. It is meant to take items out of the waste stream that can be made into something useable again instead of unnecessarily filling up our landfills.

After the blue cart leaves your curb, it travels to a material recovery facility. Items are then dumped out and sorted through a conveyer system where “good recyclable items” are handpicked out by staff. The recyclable items are then baled and sent to recycling manufacturing companies to be made into something new again.

When consumers misplace items in the blue cart that don’t belong, it impedes the process, making it harder on the MRF staff that must pick through the items. Imagine trying to get cardboard off a conveyor with a smashed TV on it.

Another issue that comes up is when consumers put “dirty” items in the recycling container. That can contaminate other items, causing them to go into the trash versus being recycled. For example, when a consumer doesn’t rinse a tin can and food drips all over a cardboard shipping box, the recyclers can’t do anything with the dirty products. The cardboard now cannot go to the paper plant to be made into something else. The tin can will most likely be rejected for being dirty, and it now causes other items to be contaminated in your cart.

Contamination is a definite problem in today’s market. The other issue is that some plastics, such as plastics with the numbers 3-7, no longer have a home. To identify what type of plastic you have, turn the item over. There is usually a number on the bottom with a symbol around it.


Plastics: Code 1 (water and soft drink bottles) and Code 2 (milk jugs)

Paper products: cardboard, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, direct mail, phone books.

Metals: aluminum cans, steel cans, tin cans (soup cans, veggie cans, coffee cans), foil and bakeware (only if rinsed and clean of food debris)

Glass: clear (flint), brown (amber), green (emerald) glass

Cereal boxes are okay as long as the plastic lining is taken out of the box (cardboard box is good). Plastic inside is nonrecyclable and is considered contamination.

Cardboard with plastic around it (water bottles with cardboard trays) need to be separated. Plastic goes in the trash. Cardboard goes into the recycling. Staff at a MRF cannot separate these on a conveyor belt.


Code 3 (PVC): dishwashing detergent bottles, window cleaners

Code 4 (LDPE): dry-cleaning bags, frozen food bags, bread wrappers, squeezable bottles

Code 5 (PP): yogurt containers, syrup bottles, catsup bottles

Code 6 (PS): Items made from polyurethane (Styrofoam) foam-type coffee cups, foam-type egg cartons, foam-type plates

Code 7 (other): items made from Nylon, bags, 5-gallon water bottles


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