A few months ago, OPB’s online news editor Rebecca Galloway started bringing small articles of plastic to my desk with a request: Can you figure out whether I can recycle this?
First it was a plastic seal from the nozzle of a pour spout on a milk container.
I smiled, nodded, and set it aside thinking maybe one day I’d make a call and find the answer.
Then she came back with a little plastic bread bag tie and a suggestion: Surely other people have questions about what is recyclable in their curbside bins – and what is not. Why don’t you start a series on the blog where you answer people’s recycling questions?
After allowing the plastic doodads to sit on my desk for months, I finally called Patrick Morgan, a Metro recycling information specialist. Turns out that in the Portland metropolitan area you can call a recycling hotline to get answers to these kinds of questions. And Morgan or someone like him will pick up.
The answer in Galloway’s case is no, you can’t recycle them in your curbside bin. They’re too small and they’ll slip through the cracks of sorting machinery. This applies to all small plastic doodads.
“Curbside recycling is very strictly limited to what’s in the literature,” he said. “Just the plant pots, tubs like yogurt, margarine, bottles, jars, buckets – that’s it. Any of the random pieces of plastic like that – very small objects – don’t qualify. In the curbside system, they get dumped into the truck with everything else, but they get hauled off to a sorting facility. Chances are they’re just going to fall through the cracks and become something these facilities don’t want to deal with.”
Indeed, I called Far West Fibers and they will take both of the items Galloway left on my desk.
Here’s why the recycling depots welcome the little plastic doodads while your curbside hauler does not:
“The reason they’re able to take these things is they have a better market and they also don’t go through a sort process like curbside does,” said Morgan. “You can drop it right into a bin intended for plastics. Then they don’t have to go through a sorting line where small things like lids, caps and all that get caught in the machinery and create headaches.”
However, you might consider how much you have to recycle before you jump in your car and drive to the drop-off site, said Morgan.
“If I lived far away from one of those depots, I wouldn’t want to drive and burn a lot of fuel to drop off some little bread ties,” he said.
So, maybe I’ll start a little “random plastics” drop-off site at my desk to accumulate a critical mass that will justify a trip to a recycling center.
Got a recycling question? Please share! As I was typing this post, Galloway came over with my next dubious item: The plastic pull tab with an aluminum tail – like the one that comes on almond milk containers.