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Contaminants: An Introduction

Contaminant |kənˈtaminənt|

noun
1. A thing that Ace Disposal does not want in your Recycling Bin

One of the most common questions we hear from our customers is – “What, exactly, can go in that blue recycle bin?” We get it. We know it can be confusing to try and remember what can be recycled and what should not be recycled. This confusion sometimes even happens at Ace. Our veteran waste professionals still need to be reminded every once in a while what can be recycled and what can not be recycled.

My name is Rebecca, and as Ace’s new Sustainability Director it is my job encourage better recycling practices. We will be posting a series to talk about the things we can’t put in those recycle bins: why we can’t recycle certain materials, and what your options are for properly disposing your trash.

Why Does Recycling Contamination matter?

There are two big reasons to care: contamination recycling may cost you money, and contamination can lead to good recyclables ending up in the landfill.

How Does Recycling Work?

When Ace Recycling and Disposal picks up your blue bin at the curb, it’s mixed with everybody else’s recycling and taken to a Materials Sorting Facility, or MRF. At the facility it is sorted by material type and sent to mills and factories across the country where materials are reprocessed individually. It’s a pretty cool system designed to isolate as many recyclables as possible. Any remaining trash is taken to the landfill where Ace Recycling pays to have it disposed. Unfortunately, when recycling material is contaminated, the transfer station(MRF) charges Ace to dispose of the contaminated recyclables. This can increase our rates and prices, which oftentimes is passed onto our residents. If we find that a load is completely contaminated, then we usually can’t save any of the recyclables and the entire load can end up in the landfill.

So How Does Contamination Happen?

Often times we find that our customers are simply not informed about best recycling practices. They will throw a pizza box in the blue bin because it is cardboard. They don’t realize that the grease from the pizza makes that particular recyclable contaminated. Additionally, recycling rules vary from state to state and can be confusing to the consumer.

Another issue common to recycling is something known as “aspirational recycling”. Often times we think something “feels” like it should be recycled, so we go ahead and throw it in the recycle bin. In fact, the opposite is true. A lot of things that “feel” like they should be recyclable, like plastic bags and glass, CANNOT go into a single-stream bin (single stream means recycling is sorted). The phrase “when in doubt, throw it out” makes me sad, but it is good advice. It is so much better to throw out a recyclable that you are unsure about than to contaminate an entire garbage load of recyclable.

As we continue this series, please don’t be afraid to send in your questions about recycling. I would love to help you learn more so that you can recycle with confidence!

Rebecca Smith
Ace Recycling and Disposal Sustainability Coordinator