Sustainability | Ecotrope

Recycling 101: Soiled Recyclables

Ecotrope | June 20, 2012 3:38 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:31 p.m.

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Soiled cardboard will not make it through the recycling process. If it does, it will contaminate the end product. So, leave the greasy pizza box out of your recycling bin. But if you're in Portland, you can put it in the compost bin instead.

Soiled cardboard will not make it through the recycling process. If it does, it will contaminate the end product. So, leave the greasy pizza box out of your recycling bin. But if you're in Portland, you can put it in the compost bin instead.

The recycling questions keep rolling in. This one is from EarthFix Editor David Steves, who asked me about soiled material that would otherwise be recyclable: “I’ve always wondered: Can you ruin a whole batch of recycling by not washing things out?”

Probably not, according to Metro Recycling Specialist Patrick Morgan. Though you could create headaches at the sorting facility. How sinful it is to put soiled recyclables in the curbside bin depends on the material, he said.

Soiled cardboard and paper are the worst offenders. They will have to be pulled out at the sorting facility to avoid contaminating a load of recycled paper.

“That’s not going to come out in the recycling process – it’s been absorbed,” said Morgan. “That’s a problem.”

So, skip the greasy pizza box. That won’t end well.

“Metal is OK with some contamination because you melt it down at such a high temperature that it’s going to burn right off,” said Morgan. “Plastic is somewhere between the two. It goes through a rinsing process.”

Morgan noted you can put soiled paper napkins, paper towels and pizza boxes in Portland’s curbside compost bins.

And he offered another reason for you to wash out your recyclable metal and plastic:

“With all these things, when you have a lot of food, the material goes off to be recycled, but it sits somewhere for awhile,” he said. “So, you don’t want it to be sitting around attracting rats as it goes through the process.”

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