There can be confusion about what is and is not recyclable. Placing the wrong items into the recycle bin can contaminate the recycle stream and could end up in a landfill anyway.
Today we explore common items which you likely have in your home right now: Pizza Boxes, Paper Coffee Cups, Styrofoam, and Plastic Shopping Bags.
Cardboard Pizza Boxes
Recyclable: Yes, if clean
Unfortunately, what makes your pizza delivery so delicious is also what can make it not recyclable: the grease. One of the biggest misconceptions about recycling is that you can recycle products covered in food waste. The leftover grease and cheese coating your empty pizza box cannot be separated from the paper during the recycling process and can contaminate the entire batch.
The good news is that as long as the cardboard isn’t coated in wax or plastic, your empty pizza box is compostable. Save these boxes if your community has commercial composting. Or tear off the greasy, food-stained portions for your home compost pile and leave only the clean cardboard for recycling
Paper Coffee cups
The most common type of cup you’ll receive with your morning coffee or tea is a paper cup lined with polyethylene plastic. While the paper and the plastic themselves might be recyclable, they cannot be easily separated. Placing that paper cup into the recycle bin will contaminate the entire batch because of the plastic liner.
Large chains such as Starbucks are currently investigating alternate cup options to increase the recyclability of their cups. Until those are in circulation, the trash bin is the safest place to dispose of your venti with whip mocha.
One alternative for eco-conscious consumers and cafe owners are coffee cups which feature a corn-based bioplastic lining called PLA. PLA breaks down in commercial compost facilities in just 2-3 months.
Even if local composting facilities are not available, compostable cups have several “upstream” benefits including using less energy and raw materials to produce than non-compostables.
Of course, the most responsible option is to use a reusable cup. Opt to bring your own travel mugs, or provide branded mugs for your customers.
Styrofoam Cups or Takeout Containers
Recyclable: Not Usually
While we’re on the subject of cups… Styrofoam, (AKA: Expanded Polystyrene) is another item which is typically not recyclable. Like the pizza boxes, if used as food packaging for takeout meals or coffee, it’s not recyclable because of food contamination. Go ahead and toss those directly into your trash can.
Recycling Styrofoam is quite expensive to accomplish and requires specialized machines. Most curbside pick-ups won’t take it. Check with your local recycler to see if they accept it before throwing clean, food-free foam items into your recycle bins.
Additionally, the EPA has identified Styrofoam as a potential human carcinogen and a health hazard.
Luckily, there are many alternatives available to replace the ubiquitous foam container. If you are a restaurant or meal prep owner who would prefer to serve your customers with healthy and eco-friendly containers, it's beyond easy to replace foam items with compostable take out boxes and cups.
The good news is that most plastic bags are recyclable, but hold off on dropping them into your curbside bin. They require different processing equipment than curbside collection provides. You can typically drop off your bags at your larger local retailers or grocery stores.
Go ahead and start a separate recycling container for these items:
- Shopping bags
- Produce bags for loose produce
- Dry cleaning bags
- Cereal box liners
- Bubble wrap
- Bread bags / Newspaper bags
- Sandwich baggies
The following are not recyclable, place into your trash instead:
- Cling wrap
- Frozen food bags
- Potato Chip bags
- Cellophane (both plastic-based and compostable cellophane)
- Compostable plastic bags (like the ones we sell)
- Bags from pre-packaged veggies
The compostable plastic or cellophane bags can be commercially composted if those services are available in your area.
If you carry out your normal household recycling in a plastic bag to put into your bin, be sure to dump the items out and make sure the bag gets separated for its own recycling journey.
Even better, keep your reusable shopping bags in your car or by your front door for easy access and minimize your use of plastic bags.