Recycling Tip: Don't 'Waste' Your Summer

Recycling Tip: Don’t ‘Waste’ Your Summer

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or 

Summer brings gatherings and festivities, which often entails sharing food and fun. Along with food comes packaging and plates, plastic utensils and all kinds of other non-recyclable food service stuff, all creating waste!

“About 40 billion plastic utensils are used in the United States each year — most of them for a mere five minutes or less — and the EPA estimates that more than 780,000 tons of plastic and styrofoam cups are discarded annually. Not all of these come from backyard barbecues or birthday parties, of course, but going greener will certainly help make a dent in those numbers,”according to a story in The Guardian.

Plastic is so prevalent in our culture that it is nearly unavoidable. Notice that I said nearly. It is actually avoidable in large part, if you just set your mind to that commitment. Join me in the mission to stop plastic pollution and waste!

Recycle Plastic Bottles, Tubs, Jugs And Jars

First, let me remind you that the only plastic objects that should go into your recycling bins are plastic bottles, tubs, jugs, or jars. Period. That’s it. If it is anything other than a bottle, tub, jug or jar, it is not recyclable in the curbside cart or any public recycling bin.

Do not put it in the recycling if it is a plastic bag, plastic wrapper, plastic cup, a straw, a lid, a plastic plate, a vinyl table cloth, a plastic party toy, a plastic fan, or a broken plastic lawn chair. These things and all other plastic objects you may find yourself trying to dispose of are not recyclable.

If you have read my past articles you will know that what makes something recyclable is if the sorting facilities can sort it and if it is marketable. They can only sort and market the plastic that comes in the shape of a container, thus the guideline: Recycle bottles, tubs, jugs and jars ONLY.

So then what should you do, if you do not want to throw all of your summer party materials in a landfill, wasting resources and adding to your environmental footprint?

Save Money With Reusable Party Supplies

I believe that the best choice and the one that will have the most positive impact on our environment/planet/home is to use reusable food service products! And avoid plastic wherever possible.

You may want to consider purchasing reusable products to keep on hand. Spending the money now will result in savings over time!

  • Use refillable water pitchers and glasses or reuseable plastic cups instead of bottled water.
  • Buy large juice or diet soda bottles and use glasses or reuseable plastic cups instead of individual servings.
  • Use cloth table cloths: wash and save for the next event.
  • Use reusable cups and plates and utensils: gather, wash and save for the next event.
  • Use cloth napkins: again wash and save.
  • Consider requesting that people bring their own silverware, and maybe even raffling off a prize for people who BYO-forks and refillable water bottles to your event.

For Large Events

Consider renting re-usable products; sets of napkins, plates, forks, and glasses can be rented for around $2 a person. Coffee pots, water pitchers, and serving utensils are also available.

Get creative with any prizes and party favors. Try to get items that can be kept, reused, recycled, and that are not made of plastic!

Making the Best of Single-Use Products

  • If you can’t supply reusable, the next best option is to purchase paper products that are made with sustainably forested paper. Dixie products (or any brand with colored prints) are frequently coated in petroleum-based plastic and are not recyclable or compostable.
  • Plastic plates and silverware can be re-used. Consider collecting plastic products, washing in hot soapy water, and reusing at future events. Note that plastic plates and utensils are NOT recyclable (even though they have the chasing arrows, they are not acceptable in most recycling programs, including Kane County programs).
  • Recycle what you can: aluminum cans and glass or plastic drink containers, foil, paper. Make sure to have a recycling bin next to every trash can at your event, with clear signage hung directly above or ON the bins. Recycling Guideline Posters (in English and Spanish) are available from the Recycling Coordinator at or 630-208-3841.
  • Aluminum cans are better than plastic bottles when it comes to recycling. In fact, recycling just one aluminum can saves enough electricity to run a laptop for 10 hours! So wherever possible select canned drinks over those in plastic or glass bottles, and be sure to recycle the cans.

Compostable Serviceware

Quick note on eco-friendly and compostable products: If you have a back yard compost you might consider using compostable plates which you can tear up into the pile.

In my opinion, it is debatable whether compostable serviceware, if not composted, is worth the extra money because it is still single use product that is energy and resource intensive. And if it ends up in a landfill anyway it will produce methane as it breaks down.

Also there are a lot of false products out there posing as green and/or “biodegradable” when they are not actually compostable (certified compostable ASTM D6400 for films and ASTM D6868 for packaging which uses biodegradable coatings, see more here).

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