America Recycles Day: Back to Basics

Severe changes to the recycling market (see video and below) have changed what is acceptable for recycling now on the Homewood campus and in most communities in the U.S. So Homewood Recycling is going old school with our messaging and telling people to go #BacktoBasics. The first update is that only plastic bottles and jugs are acceptable now in the recycling bin. Please do not recycle any other types of plastic like yogurt, deli, or produce containers and definitely not the compostable to-go containers sold on campus. Second, no food or food containers should be recycled. Food is a major contaminant and a whole 4 ton compactor of recycling can be ruined from just a little bit of food, so please do not recycle any food or anything that had food in it. Third, paper coffee cups, plates, and napkins should not be put in the recycling; they are made of a very low quality fiber and should be composted instead. This has always been the case, but with the current state of the recycling market, contamination from these items is a much bigger issue.

To give you some context for these rules, let's talk about what we mean by recycling anyway. When you put a bottle or piece of paper in the bin we think of that as recycling, but that is just the collection of the materials in the larger process towards recycling. On Homewood campus, the bag is removed by custodians, placed outside, then picked up by our materials handlers driving around in the little trucks. Based on the color of the bag they put the bags into the appropriate dumpster, whether it be compost or recycling or incinerate. When the dumpsters are full, a waste hauler picks it up and delivers it to a sorting facility. There recyclables are separated and baled into the same materials like paper or #1 plastics. Those bales are sold to a processor who pulps or melts down the items into a raw material that is sold to a manufacturer, who then uses it to make something new.

For over a decade, the U.S. and the rest of the developed world has been sending about 60 percent of their recyclable materials to China. In 2018, China imposed an import ban on essentially all recyclable material partly because they produce enough recyclable materials domestically to meet the demand of their own manufacturers and partly because our recycling was highly contaminated. This has dramatically disrupted the recycling industry because there aren't many other countries willing to accept our material. The basic principle of supply and demand applies: too much recycling on the market and not enough buyers, and so the price drops. With profit margins for recycling processors so slim, they are accepting less contamination and not accepting other plastics that have little value. So #recyclesmart and when in doubt throw it out.

To learn more about waste reduction and diversion on the Homewood campus follow Homewood Recycling on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Take the America Recycles Day pledge.