Recycling in Cuyahoga County is Easy – Don’t Overthink It!

Doreen Schreiber

Launched early last year, the purpose of our “recycle more, recycle better” education campaign was twofold.  We wanted to make recycling easy to understand for everyone in Cuyahoga County and reduce the amount of contamination in the recycling stream.

We established five categories of materials that are easily recyclable in any mixed recycling stream in Northeast Ohio. We created new education pieces, including a separate ‘What About Plastics?’ brochure to make it easier to understand plastics recycling.

So what do people do?  They overthink it!  When I do my presentations, and tell them the only metal that you should put in your mixed recycling is a can, immediately a hand goes up in the audience.  “What about aluminum foil?” “What about foil pans?” “What about metal parts?”  So I repeat it again, with even more clarification. The only metal you should put in your mixed recycling is a can.  So, if you are holding some metal in your hand, ask yourself “Is it a can?”  If it is not, what should you do with it?  They usually have a better understanding after I explain it a second time.

Declutter your recycling mind for mixed recyclables

Make it simple. There are only five main material categories:

  1. Cans
  2. Cartons
  3. Glass
  4. Paper and boxes
  5. Plastic bottles and jugs

When we talk about plastic, I tell people to only include plastic bottles and jugs in mixed recycling. If the item is shaped like a bottle, jar, jug, or tub it can be placed in recycling.  Suddenly, there are many questions:  “What about this?  What about that?”  Then I repeat myself and say, “When you hold it in your hand, ask yourself if it is a bottle, jar, jug, or tub. If so, then you can recycle it.”

We no longer look at the numbers on plastics to determine if a plastic container is recyclable. Those numbers are actually resin codes used by the plastics industry to identify the chemicals used to make the container. The codes do not always mean that the item is recyclable.

Yes, you should rinse out your container, put the cap back on tightly, and put it in the recycling bin. Now it is caps on, not caps off.

Three simple rules to recycle correctly

  1. If you hold it in your hand and it fits into one of the five main categories it is recyclable.
  2. Rinse the item thoroughly and put the cap back on tightly
  3. Put it in the mixed recycling container

Due to rapidly changing market conditions for commodities and increased contamination, it is now more important than ever to have a clean recycling stream so the material recovery facilities don’t spend so much time trying to remove costly contamination. If it’s a can, carton, glass bottle or jar, paper, and cardboard, or a plastic bottle or jug, then recycle it. If not, throw it out, even if you used to recycle it.

USA Today has been covering the changing market conditions for recycling, China’s National Sword, and how it’s affecting how we recycle. See the story.

You may accidentally throw out something recyclable in the process, but it is better to be safe and have a clean recycling stream rather than contamination. So, let’s keep it simple.