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24 May 2024

Here are three common recycling myths you should discard

Here are three common recycling myths you should discard

Recycling has been around for decades and yet many questions about what can — and can’t — go into your bins persist.

“Part of the problem is that we expect all of this to be intuitive and it’s not,” said Reid Lifset, a research scholar at the Yale School of the Environment. “It’s a complicated system.”

Here are three common myths that you should discard.

Pizza boxes are not recyclable ❌

The Environmental Protection Agency encourages the recycling of pizza boxes. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Yes, they are. The Environmental Protection Agency says you should put them in the bin even if they’re stained with grease. But before you do, make sure to remove any food scraps and flatten the box.

“Pizza boxes are recyclable; pizza is not!” the agency said in its recycling guidelines.

The American Forest and Paper Association, a trade organization, also endorses recycling pizza boxes and encourages communities to update their residential recycling program guidelines to accept boxes that are free of food. The group points to research by WestRock, a major U.S. packaging company, that found that paper mills can recycle greasy pizza boxes, including those with small amounts of cheese stuck to them.

“Grease and cheese in an amount typically found on pizza boxes are not an issue for the recycling process,” according to the association.

All paper is recyclable ❌

Coated paper such as glittery or metallic gift wrap shouldn't be mixed with plain paper for recycling. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Not quite. Paper mills can handle plain paper products and corrugated cardboard boxes. But if the paper is coated, such as glittery or metallic gift wrap, or has additional linings, things can start to get complicated.

Take, for instance, juice boxes, which are typically made of a combination of paper lined with a thin layer of aluminum and a plastic coating. The paper used for these cartons is usually a high-quality fiber and valuable to paper mills, but facilities need to have the equipment to separate the materials, Lifset said.

Paper receipts can also be tricky. While ordinary paper receipts are recyclable, oftentimes the slips that come out of debit-card machines or newer cash registers are not. These receipts are printed on thermal paper, which contains a chemical known as bisphenol A, or a similar compound called bisphenol S. The chemical residue from these receipts can contaminate recycled paper, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization.

One way to tell what type of paper receipt you have is to scratch it. If a dark line shows up, the receipt is probably printed on paper with BPA or BPS.

Recyclables have to be perfectly clean ❌

A quick rinse is enough to get most food and beverage containers ready for the recycling bin.

The cleaner and drier your recyclables are, the better. But it’s generally good enough to get most of the food or liquid out before putting things into the bin.

“A basic rinse to remove any major food particles is sufficient — you don’t need to get everything squeaky clean,” said Melissa Valliant, spokesperson for Beyond Plastics, an advocacy organization.

There’s no need to diligently hand wash jars, bottles and other containers, which can waste water and energy. Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit group, said she soaks certain recyclables to make them easier to rinse out or puts them in the dishwasher.

And a reality check ✔️

It's always best to do your homework and know what your local recycling system can handle. (Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

What items actually get recycled depends on where you are. Some places, for example, still won’t take sullied pizza boxes.

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