JoAnne Skelly: Be a responsible recycler

In Northern Nevada, many of us have single-stream recycling with curbside pickup. However, in an anti-pollution campaign, China has reduced or eliminated what kind of foreign recyclables and what percent (.5) of contaminated materials it will accept. This limits the market for where our recycled materials can go, particularly when contaminated. There used to be money in selling off recyclables. Now, it costs companies to take it away, sort it and store it. Although some waste managers are able to process recycling domestically, others are searching for alternative markets overseas. In the meantime, some processors are stockpiling materials, hoping for future solutions that will be economically viable.

Single-stream recycling at first seemed a great way to simplify the recycling process for the consumer and help Nevada reach its legislated diversionary goal. However, waste managers are finding that at least 25 percent of what is in our recycling bins is contaminated with food waste and non-recyclable items such as bowling balls and has to be diverted to a landfill.

Here are things that are not recyclable according to the Waste Management website: dirty or non-recyclable plastics; polystyrene foam and packaging — including disposable cups; plastic utensils and straws; many cartons, plastic wrap, bags or films; hoses; cords; wire; mirrors, window glass or light bulbs; tissue paper, store receipts or shredded paper; wood; carpet or clothing; berry containers or the greasy bits of pizza boxes; and yard waste. Don’t put anything greasy in the recycle bin. And, need I say it? No diapers, clean or dirty!

What is allowed: newspapers, periodicals and junk mail; clean aluminum pans and foil; all metal beverage, food and aerosol cans; glass bottles and jars; empty plastic bottles, clean rigid plastic containers, and plastics #1-5 and #7. The clean parts of a pizza box and other clean flattened cardboard can be recycled. Recycle items cannot be placed in plastic bags as the bags themselves are not recyclable with other plastics. Do wash out all allowed recyclables. Allowed items are listed on the lid of your recycling bin.

Consumer choice is critical to a successful recycling process, which ends with material reuse. The process only begins when we put stuff in the bin. Limit contaminated dirty recyclables to avoid things going to a landfill. Be a responsible aware recycler. Non-recyclables in the recycling bin does more harm than good. And, do your part by reducing your consumption of non-recyclables in the first place and by reusing as much as possible.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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