We were recycling all wrong. Then we started writing this article.
A recent study in the UK found that zero respondents out of 2000 were able to correctly sort their garbage so that it could be recycled without resorting. The problem with this is that recycling inefficiently radically drives up energy, water and the cost of reprocessing. Because cross-contamination increases the complexity and therefore the cost it also means that significantly less is recycled and instead more is emptied into landfill. If you are reading this article, you likely believe in recycling as we do, and for it to work properly it is imperative that we do it the right way.
Finding concrete information on this topic is also tricky, as every country, city and town has their own rules. However, we wanted to clear up a few areas of ambiguity to rectify some common recycling mistakes.
Obviously, you need to start by having dedicated bins for: compost, plastic, paper and one for everything else. Secondly, you need to get out of the habit of forcing items which shouldn’t be recycled into the paper/glass/plastic recycling bins as the contamination gums up the entire process.
Main rules of thumb:
- Keep items somewhat clean; grease and chemicals in particular contaminates recycling. A greasy pizza box is not recyclable.
- Make sure that the plastic items you put in the plastic container are a recyclable plastic.
- If the item you’re disposing of is made up of different materials you need to separate the items into their respective bins, like if a jar has a metal lid or if you cardboard box has plastic tape etc.
- Don’t throw used foil, chocolate wrappers etc into any recycling bin, throw them in to the trash (everything else) bin.
- When emptying your non-plastic bins make sure you remove your plastic bin liner, this contaminants and tangles up the reprocessing machine.
- Recycle all bottles, cans and clean paper.
KEEN TO KNOW MORE...? READ ON.
Can you put napkins or paper towels in the compost bin?
If you have used your paper towel to clean up greasy surfaces with a chemical spray,do not put them in your compost. Put them in the trash. Bleached or coloured paper towels and napkins should also go in your trash bin. However, compostable or recycled napkins (they are usually marked as compostable) can go into the bio bin, as they usually end up being covered in cooked food and easily decompose.
Can you recycle pizza boxes?
If they are used no, the same goes for cups and plates (nothing greasy). You can only recycle paper.
Can you recycle coffee cups?
No. Oh, and the same goes for milk and juice cartons, these items are usually lined with several different materials which makes it super difficult to separate them as there is no standards for production. Some biocups are accepted, but this depends on the individual waste contractors as to whether they are recycled or not. Biodegradable cups still require specific industrial conditions to decompose. So, think before you drink and try to avoid using take away cups altogether.
There are some coffee cup lids that say they are compostable, does this mean I can put them in the compost?
No. Items marked as compostable need to be aerobically composted, so with heat and pressure/ rotating. Anaerobically or passive composting will take a very long time. So, not in the backyard.
If I have items that have combined materials like plastic and paper, do I need to separate them?
Yes! For example, if you have a cardboard box with plastic tape on it remove and dispose of the plastic and then place the cardboard box into the recycling bin. The same goes for mason jars, remove the metal lids and put them in the metal bins.
Can you recycle broken wine glasses or multi-coloured glass?
No, usually drinking glasses, cups and colour treated glass are made up of a different kind of glass to what your beverage may have initially come in. So, this means it should just go in the trash bin, not recycling. The same should also be applied to ceramics, vases and clay pots.
Should I flatten all my boxes, cans etc?
Yes, this creates more space!
Do I need to remove the caps from my empty bottles before disposing of them?
Yes. Put these in the metal and plastics bin.
Can aluminium foil be recycled?
If clean, yes!
Do I need to take my compost out of the plastic before putting it in the communal organics bin?
Yes, definitely. Then dispose of the plastic bag in general trash bin.
Where does baking paper go?
If clean you can put it in the paper recycling bin, otherwise, in the trash, it goes.
Where do juice boxes and milk cartons go? Like coffee cups, most juice and milk cartons (usually have a thin layer of plastic to protect the paper), this often means that they can´t be recycled.
Does meat go in the compost?
Meat is not ideal for your compost; it can smell and develop other bacterias. Non-animal food scraps are perfect. Also, no dead animals.
What cannot be recycled?
- Loose plastic bags
- Plastic wrap/cling film
- Polystyrene foam/styrofoam cups or containers
- Soiled food containers
- Soiled paper products
- Cassette tapes
- Coffee cups
- Ex-lovers who broke your heart
Depending on where you live in the world, your options for recycling may vary. If you do a quick google search, you will see some cities have tailored guidelines and drop off locations for specific items. A little research goes a long way. However, if you are based in Germany like us, you’re in luck, here is a quick break down of what goes where.
Yellow bin/ orange bin (plastic and metal):
- Metals (pots and pans)
- Tins and cans
- Plastic packaging
- Non-refundable plastic bottles, check the bottom of the bottle, if they are refundable take them to your local supermarket and exchange them for store credit
- Condiment bottles
- Food containers, for example, yoghurt and butter containers
- Metal cans
- Composite packaging (vegetable packaging, single item packaging)
Hot tip: Be sure to empty your containers before recycling, leftover shampoo or ketchup and/or mayonnaise in condiment bottles contaminate the system.
Blue bin (all clean paper)
- Office paper
- Junk mail, flyers, glossy paper
- Cardboard boxes
- Clean egg cartons
- Clean paper packaging
Brown bin: Compost bin
- Egg shells
- Vegetables and fruits, peels etc.
- Coffee grinds and filters
- Flowers, grass, yard trimmings and foliage
- Compostable napkins free of chemicals (they are usually brown/not bleached or dyed)
Glass bin: Clear glass, green glass and brown glass
Non-PF glass goes into the white and green bin. If your building does not have these bins available you can find some “glasigus” bins near you that you can use. Check out this Glasigus locator.
- Jars, but the metal lid goes into the metal and plastics bin (yellow bin)
- Non-refundable alcohol bottles, beer and wine
- Perfume bottles
- Empty medicine bottles
Gray/ Black bin (everything else)
- Drink cartons
- Coffee cups
- Waxed paper
- Carbon paper
- Greasy paper towels
- Greasy pizza boxes and dirty cardboard
- Cassette tapes
- Textiles (or donation bins/ special recycling)
- Cigarette butts
- Wood (or local recycling centre)
- Pottery and ceramics
- Litter and faece
- Vacuum cleaner bags
Textiles, clothes and shoes, check out this clothing donation bin locator. If the clothing is not donatable, they go in the grey bin.
Batteries, light bulbs and electronics
For batteries, DM, Aldi and REWE
You can dispose of your electronics at these locations:
Deutsche Post - you can post your electronics away for free, you only need to print out a label.
All MediaMarkt, Saturn and Hornbach locations accept your electronics for disposal.
BSR, check for different locations.
Wood, sand, stone and dirt:
Recycling centre or grey bin.
Here are some helpful resources for some major cities:
Amsterdam, The Netherlands:
Text by Michelle Torres