6 Things You THINK You Can Recycle — But Can't

6 Things You THINK You Can Recycle — But Can’t

  • This article is part of a series of recycling tips from Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or recycle@countyofkane.org.

It’s been 20 years since recycling programs became widespread in Kane County, so by now most of you have a pretty good idea what goes in the recycling bin. But there are a few things that end up in the bin that should not be there!

In my experience, here are the top 12 things that I often see in the recycling bins that should not be in there. They are either trash or can be recycled at drop-offs but not in your curbside cart!

  1. Plastic bags
  2. Cups
  3. Cups Lids
  4. Straws
  5. Plastic utensils
  6. Styrofoam
  7. Chip bags
  8. Candy wrappers
  9. Napkins
  10. Paper towels
  11. Tissue
  12. Paper plates

Because there are 12, we’re going to split this article in two. Today, we’ll look at the top six of the items people often think they can recycle in the bin, but can’t. We’ll go into some detail on the next six items in our next article!

1. Plastic Bags

A worker removes tangled plastic shopping bags from a clogged machine at a recycling facility in Portland. The giant apparatus, which separates plastic from paper, must be shut down every day for up to 90 minutes so workers can remove the bags by hand. (CREDIT: Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Plastic bags can NOT go in your curbside cart, so please empty your recycling out of the bags and keep the bag out of the recycling.

Plastic bags are the No. 1 problem at sorting facilities where they get caught in the sorting equipment and then need to literally be cut out and removed manually at the end of each day. Ultimately they end up in a landfill.

DO RECYCLE your clean, dry, and empty bags at grocery stores. See this link on the Kane County Recycles page for more information on that recycling program.

Or you can reuse them! If you have no other choice or if they are dirty, then throw them in the trash.

2. Cups

Cups of any kind are not recyclable. That includes:

  • plastic cups
  • paper coffee cups and lids
  • foam cups

Plastic: “But what if the plastic cup or lid has the recycle symbol on them?” you ask.

The recycle symbol does not necessarily mean that the item is recyclable. The chasing arrow symbol with the number in it was co-opted by the plastics manufacturing industry to mark what kind of plastic it is, but it does not mean it is recyclable.

We recycling coordinators have been trying to work with them for years to change that practice — without luck.

Paper: Paper coffee cups are confusing because they are paper, yes, but they are coated in a petroleum-based plastic coating, that is not recyclable.

They are a “monstrous hybrid” in the words of Michael Braungart and William McDonough and can only be thrown in the trash. Other examples of monstrous hybrids are VCR tapes and artificial Christmas trees with built-in lights, products made out of various materials that no one has the resources to separate.

3. Cup Lids

As with cups, cup lids DO NOT go in your recycling cart!

DO RECYCLE the cardboard heat sleeve that comes around your coffee! Please remove it and recycle it before you trash the cup and lid. Or save it to reuse again next time!

4. Straws

Even if it’s the last straw, don’t put it in the recycling bin.

About 500 million straws are used in the U.S. every day, enough to fill more than 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year!

There are many options to traditional plastic straws, including reusable stainless steel straws, glass straws, reusable plastic straws,  and even bamboo straws.

5. Plastic utensils

Plastic utensils are made from either polypropylene or hard polystyrene, identifiable by RICs (the numbers in the triangular symbol) 5 and 6, respectively.

You still can’t recycle them in your bin.

Expert opinion varies, but most say you can wash and reuse plastic utensils rather than throwing them away, if you like. Other reuses for plastic utensils include using them for craft projects, plant supports for new seedlings, toys (for kids playing “restaurant”), kids’ lunchboxes (make sure they bring the home to wash and reuse) and cutting knives for clay.

6. Styrofoam

Polystyrene, a substance we know best by the brand name “Styrofoam” is not recyclable in your curbside cart.

It used to be accepted in some curbside programs so I have found that some people think it still is, but it isn’t! Not in any programs in Kane County, so please do not place foam meat trays, plates, cups, block foam from packaging, or packing peanuts in the recycling cart.

DO RECYCLE foam food containers and block foam if they are clean and dry at DART Container Corp in North Aurora. See our A-Z list or below for details.

Styrofoam, polystyrene, styrene: Dart Container Corp, 310 Evergreen Dr., North Aurora, 630-896-4631, www.dartcontainer.com. Recycle Drop-Off is open 24/7. List of accepted items: block foam #6, clean food containers. NO straws, cup lids, paper, or packing peanuts. If dropping a large load please call for an appointment.

Packing peanuts:  Shipping and packing stores will reuse clean, bagged and unmixed foam peanuts. Call your local UPS store. Or contact the Peanut Hotline www.epspackaging.org, 800-828-2214.

Please share this with your friends, neighbors, and families! Get the word out and help everyone Recycle Right! Thank you!

Meet Jennifer Jarland on June 6!

The Izaak Walton League of Elgin is presenting a recycling learning session with Jennifer Jarland, Kane County recycling program coordinator, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 6, and the Izaak Walton League, 899 Jay Street, Elgin.

Please invite friends, family and neighbors to this important learning event. Find out the current updates in the recycling program and future plans.

Liquid refreshments will be provided including lemonade for the younger folks.

Read the ‘Recycling Tips’ Series!