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Know the difference: recycling inside vs. outside the curbside bin
Porter County -- America Recycles Day is November 15! The staff at Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction would like to spotlight that often confusing and frustrating ritual that residents try to do for the sake of the environment.
“When we talk about recycling, generally people think it’s about the materials they place inside their curbside recycling bins or totes,” said Donna Stuckert, public education coordinator for Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction.
“Aside from the materials that are acceptable for curbside recycling, there is a whole world of materials that are recyclable, but not at the curb,” said Stuckert. “This is why people get confused. Even though we say Christmas lights are recyclable, it does not mean they should go into your curbside tote.”
She said that all of Northwest Indiana, Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties, recycles the same materials curbside: cartons (beverage and broth); aluminum and metal cans; glass bottles and jars; paper and cardboard; and plastic containers, bottles, jugs and tubs. Recycling guidelines are posted on www.PorterCountyRecycling.org.
“So people who live in St. John, Valparaiso or Michigan City should be recycling these products curbside or in the drop-off containers sponsored by their solid waste management districts,” Stuckert said. “It doesn’t matter who collects the recyclables or whether or not people live in unincorporated areas, the curbside guidelines are the same.”
Once placed in curbside bins or drop off containers, she said these materials go to facilities in Illinois where they are sorted, baled and sold to make new products.
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A recycling sorting facility is called a MRF (pronounced murf), which stands for material recovery facility. These facilities can only accept items they can process with their state-of-the-art technology and sell.
The guidelines we advertise are directly from these Illinois sorting facilities,” she said.
Stuckert said she hears a lot of complaints on social media about all the curbside recycling “rules.”
“There have always been recycling guidelines,” she said. “This is nothing new. There are rules for everything, right?”
What is new, Stuckert said, is that Porter County Recycling is posting a lot of information on social media to help people learn and be more aware about what they are placing in their curbside bins.
“Unfortunately, since we have been doing single stream recycling, which is putting all of the different materials into one bin/tote, there has been a lot of ‘wishcycling’ going on,” she said.
“Wishcycling” is the practice of placing items in curbside recycle bins that people are not sure are recyclable with the hope that someone will find these items and do the right thing, she said.
This practice adds a lot of wrong materials into the recycling stream causing contamination, Stuckert said, which is a main factor why China, the largest consumer of United States curbside recyclables, no longer wants them, as they are full of trash.
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“Right now, quality of recyclables is much more important than quantity,” Stuckert said. “We need everyone to recycle the right items curbside and clean up the recycling stream. Placing items in your bin because you think they ought be recycled is incorrect. If you are unsure if they are recyclable curbside, it’s really best to throw them in the trash.”
As far as recycling outside the curbside bin, Stuckert said items such as electronics, household batteries and fluorescent light bulbs, among many other things, are recyclable in Porter County, because Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction sponsors programs.
“Our website lists programs and instructs our residents where they can take those products to be recycled appropriately,” she said.
Additionally, she said many businesses and organizations offer recycling services for materials and products that don't go into curbside recycling.
“Scrap metal, for example, is recyclable, but should never be placed in your curbside recycle bin,” she said. “The MRFs are very specific in the metal they will accept: aluminum and metal CANS. They cannot process scrap metal; however, there are many local businesses that will gladly accept your scrap metal,” she said.
Stuckert said single-use plastic bags are another example of items that should never go into your curbside bin/tote.
“The MRFs cannot process these bags or any type of film, like bread bags, packaging, plastic wrap, baggies, etc.,” Stuckert said. “In fact, bags and film pose a huge problem for their state-of-the-art equipment, as the material wraps around the conveyors and jams the machines.”
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She said film plastics are recyclable; however, people must bring them to dropoff locations throughout Northwest Indiana. Use the tool on www.plasticfilmrecycling.org to find a convenient location, she said.
“If you ever have any questions about recycling certain products, staff at your solid waste management district can help guide you in recycling or disposing of products and materials in a way that won’t harm the environment,” Stuckert said.
For more information, contact the appropriate solid waste district: Lake County Solid Waste Management District: 219-853-2420; LaPorte County Solid Waste Management District: 219-326-0014, firstname.lastname@example.org; Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction: 219-465-3694, info@PorterCountyRecycling.org.