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Recyclable or Not

Think you know how to recycle? Take the quiz. A new question will be posted every weekday from November 1 through November 15 in honor of America Recycles Day.

Are the following items recyclable?* Test your recycling know-how with a new item each day leading up to America Recycles Day on Nov. 15. And while you are at it, commit to recycle more and take the #BE RECYCLED Pledge. Your commitment will help conserve natural resources, reduce waste, and inspire others to recycle more.

1) Batteries. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. Batteries contain many components that are recyclable. However, batteries are not curbside recyclable; if you try to recycle them this way, they will get landfilled, but also potentially put others in danger. The corrosive nature of their ingredients makes batteries a hazardous item for recycling facilities. Rechargeable, or lithium ion batteries are of particular concern, causing very dangerous fires in some instances -- keep them out of your recycling bin, and your trash bin where they also present fire risks. You have to find a special drop off location in order to recycle batteries. Call2Recycle can help you find places near you that can recycle your batteries. Or, dispose of the batteries at a local household hazardous waste collection point.

2) Mattresses. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. Although recyclable, you are not going to be able to drop off your mattress at the curbside or at most local drop-off recycling centers. Mattresses contain valuable recyclable materials including wood, foam, cotton, and metal springs, however separating them into its individual components can be timely and costly.

Mattresses are just about the bulkiest item a consumer can recycle. On the plus side, you’re likely only disposing of one once every 10 to 20 years, but the size and weight means it won’t be an easy process. This means your best bet is to find a hauler who will recycle it for you. Here are the four best options (in order of ease and cost) to accomplish this:

  1. If you’re buying a replacement mattress that is being delivered, ask if the store will haul away your old mattress for recycling.
  2. If your local recycling program offers bulk waste collection, call and ask if mattresses are included and recycled.
  3. Call a secondhand store like Goodwill, The Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul (each local affiliate has different acceptance/collection rules) and ask if mattress donations are accepted/hauled away for recycling.
  4. If you’re recycling a mattress to clean out a property, find a local hauling company that will take away this and other items for recycling. You can find these companies in the phone book or using an online search engine like Yelp.

3) Wrapping Paper. Is it Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes and No. Correct. The answer is both yes and no depending on what kind of wrapping paper you have. Plain wrapping is recyclable. However, metallic, glitter, or velvety flocking paper is not.

What about bows, ribbons, gift bags, tissue paper and holiday cards?

  • Bows are not recyclable, but can be reused over and over.
  • Gift bags are also not recyclable, but are great for using multiple times.
  • Tissue Paper has a limited recycling availability. You should check with your waste hauler, however most places will not recycle it. Again, why not reuse it?
  • Greeting Cards are recyclable depending on the type of card. Plain paper cards are recyclable, however if the card is shiny, photo, metallic, or have glitter you can tear card so you can recycle the plain paper section.

4) Light Bulbs. (Traditional Incandescent, CFLs, and LEDs). Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. However, similar to batteries and electronics, light bulbs have special recycling streams outside of your curbside recycling container. You need to take them to a special drop off location that accepts them. The location will vary depending on the light bulb type.

  • Incandescent Lightbulbs are not recyclable curbside and will actually contaminate a whole batch of recyclable glass due to its composition creating a different melting temperature. To recycle check with local retailers such as Home Depot, Ikea, and Batteries Plus Bulbs. If a recycling option is not available near you, incandescent light bulbs typically do not contain toxic chemicals, so you can throw them away with your regular trash.
  • Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFLs) contain a small amount of mercury. If broken, CFL bulbs can be damaging to both human health and the environment. You should recycle your CFL bulbs for proper disposal. Check with your local hazardous waste facility, collection, or home improvement store to find a drop off location. Older fluorescent tubes also contain mercury and should be properly disposed of by recycling. If a CFL breaks in your household, you should follow the EPA guidelines for proper clean-up and disposal.
  • Light emitting diode (LEDs) light bulbs are about 90 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs. LEDs are not considered hazardous, so they can be disposed of with the trash. However, some of the components in LED bulbs are recyclable. Contact your local home improvement store, recycler or solid waste management district to see if they will accept LEDs for recycling in your area.

5) Keurig K-Cups and other single use coffee pods. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. K-Cups take a little special attention though. At the moment, five varieties of the K-Cup Pods are recyclable: Green Mountain Breakfast Blend, Green Mountain Breakfast Blend Decaf, Laughing Man Hugh’s Blend, Laughing Man Dukale’s Blend, Laughing Man Colombia Huila, and Laughing Man Ethiopia Sidama. These K-Cups are made of #5 plastic (check the label on the bottom of the cup to be sure), and to recycle them you simply need to remove the foil lid and discard the grounds first. The paper filter in the pod can remain. The other varieties of the pods are made of #7 plastic, which is not always accepted in curbside bins. Call your waste hauler to be sure you can put them in your bin, or find a location near you that accepts #7 plastic and drop them off. Keurig states that by the end of 2020, 100% of their K-Cups will be recyclable.

6) Plastic Straws & Utensils. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. Although both plastic straws and utensils are primarily made of #5 plastic, a commonly recycled material, neither are typically accepted in curbside recycling bins. Their small size is the main barrier, because while travelling down conveyer belts to be sorted, they fall through the cracks and end up being landfilled. Plastic straws and utensils need be put in the trash, so you should aim to reduce your use of them.

7) Holiday Lights. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. Holiday lights are recyclable, but NOT in home or drop-off bins. They are not allowed curbside or drop-off recycling bins because they are a mixed-material: glass, plastic and metal. In addition, light strands act as a tangler that jams sorting machinery by wrapping around the equipment discs and wheels. This creates problems and can shut down an entire Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) or recycling plant that sorts recyclables.

To recycle, contact your local hardware store for holiday lights recycling. Or check out the following websites for mail-in options:

8) Packing Peanuts and Styrofoam. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. Although recyclable, the recycling market is limited making reuse or donation the best options for this material. In theory, Styrofoam is easy to recycle. It is simply melted down and recast into new products. In practice, it is not so simple. Most packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), more commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam, which are up to 98% air. Styrofoam is hard to recycle because it takes up so much space relative to its weight. That means shipping it to a recycler does not provide much return on investment. Besides packing peanuts, companies make drink coolers, coolers for shipping medical samples, and the ubiquitous drinking cup from EPS.

To recycle, check with your local waste hauler, recycler, or solid waste management district for options. If you live in the Indianapolis area, Plastic Recycling, Inc., located in the Stout Field Industrial Park (4434 Stout Field South Drive) has a container inside their gate that is open from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. most weekdays for drop off of any color EPS including packaging, cups, and take out containers.

To reuse or donate, store in a box or bag and reuse the peanuts the next time you need to ship someone a gift. If you do not ship breakable items frequently, many companies will take packing peanuts and reuse them for you. For example, Mailboxes Etc. and UPS stores in some communities will take them off your hands at no charge. Check with your neighborhood branch, or with other local shipping companies, to see if they take peanuts.

9) Clothing Hangers (plastic and metal). Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: No. Despite being made of commonly recyclable materials, metal and plastic, clothes hangers of both types are not commonly accepted in curbside bins. The wire variety in particular are termed “tanglers”, as they can get caught up in machinery, causing recycling centers issues. Instead of recycling, the easiest thing to do with unwanted hangers is reuse. Check with your local drycleaners to see if they accept any hangers. Typically drycleaners are interested in metal hangers, not plastic. Plastic hangers are the hardest to get rid of, as even places like Goodwill and other thrift shops are often overrun with hangers and have no need for them. It’s always worth calling to check, but your best bet for plastic hangers may be to repurpose them around the house. Reduce the use of hangers by leaving them at the store when you purchase clothing, even if the employee offers them to you.

Hangers get tangled up on equipment at recycling facilities. Some of them may technically be made of a recyclable plastic or metal, but their shape makes it likely that they’ll cause problems — they will not get recycled. Leave these out of your recycling.

10) Plastic Bags and other plastic film. Are they Recyclable?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: Yes. Plastic bags and film are recyclable, however they are NOT accepted in most household curbside containers or local recycling drop-off bins. As the alternative, many grocery stores or retailers have a container for plastic film recycling. Make sure to remove the paper receipts from the bags before depositing them in the containers. Plastic film is a thin flexible sheet of plastic that stretches when you pull it with your fingers. Plastic film examples include dry cleaning bags, bread bags, produce bags, the wrap around items like toilet paper and paper towels, and even bubble wrap. Almost all plastic films and bags are 100 percent recyclable, as long as they are clean and dry.

The Drop Off Directory can help you find your closest drop-off location and also provides a list of acceptable plastic films.

Ever wonder why you cannot put plastic film in with your curbside recycling? Earth911 provides a video that shows how the plastic film clings tightly to the machinery that separates paper from cans and bottles at sorting facilities requiring workers to cut them away multiple times a day slowing the process and costing additional time and money.

* The recycling information provided is for general use. Acceptable items for recycling will vary by your recycler. Check your local municipality, waste hauler, or solid waste management district for further information.

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