Recycling Sea Change: Stop Recycling Plastic That's NOT a Container

Recycling Sea Change: Stop Recycling Plastic That’s NOT a Container

  • Editor’s Note: This article, written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, is the third of a three-part series on China’s National Sword legislation and its effects on recycling programs in Kane County. Got questions or concerns? Contact Jarland at at 630-208-3841 or
  • FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: Recycle Across America

In the previous two installments of our “recycling sea change” series, I’ve pointed out that China and other countries have placed legislative restrictions on imports of American recycled materials — and that those policies have had a domino effect that makes it even more important to pay attention to what we can and CANNOT put in our recycling bins here in Kane County.

We also talked about statewide efforts to come to a consensus about recycling guidelines, the dangers of “wish recycling” and the importance of “recycling right.”

This week, we take a closer look at plastics recycling.

To be frank, plastics are the biggest problem — both because of the Chinese import ban and because people put in a ton of plastic stuff that is not actually recyclable.

The devil incarnate? Not necessarily. But that number surrounded by chasing arrows is confusing the issue.

Confusion comes largely from that ubiquitous symbol — a number inside the chasing arrows triangle — which manufacturers often imprint on plastic products.

You’ve heard me talk about this before. The number tells you only the type of resin is in the plastic. It does NOT tell you whether the item is recyclable.

My advice: Forget the numbers and look only to the shape to inform you whether it is recyclable or not.

The only plastic you can place in the curbside recycling bins are CONTAINERS: bottles, tubs, jugs, and jars! That’s it.

No plastic plates, no plastic utensils, no plastic bags, no plastic packaging, no plastic toys, hoses, cables, candy wrappers, chairs or anything else.

Also, try to avoid buying products packaged in plastic or made of plastic! That is the best thing you can do to help reduce the glut of plastic waste infiltrating all elements of our environment.

When in Doubt, Throw It Out!

You may remember the old maxim, “When in doubt, throw it out!” Where did that saying go?

Out the door with the introduction of “single-stream” recycling, where you throw everything in the same bin: paper and containers made of plastic, glass, and metal.

The single-stream system was introduced in the early 2000s to encourage recycling through the convenience factor.

That method encouraged an increase in quantity, as hoped, but unfortunately the quality went down. Way too many things are ending up in the recycling stream that shouldn’t be there. And the new automated collection systems make it hard for the drivers to see the materials and stop contamination at the curb.

The contamination rates (percentage of non-recyclable material that is sorted out of the recycling and sent to landfill) at Illinois material recovery facilities are more than 20 percent these days! That means that nearly one-fourth of what people are putting in their recycling bins is not recyclable!

This is damaging the entire recycling system.

We need to bring back the cautionary principal, and throw it out if there is any doubt that it is recyclable.

“If it is not on the accepted items list, DO NOT PUT IT IN THE BIN!” advises Greg Maxwell of Resource Management, a local sorting facility that receives a large portion of Kane County’s recyclables, “It’s really that simple.”

October Presentation

If you would like to hear more about all of this and get the latest updates, I will be doing a presentation in October at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva.

The event is open to the public and set for 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, at the Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva. Space is limited, so please RSVP to recycling

See the flyer below for details.

Read The Sea Change Series

Read More on Plastics Recycling