Recycling in Northeast Ohio: You’re doing it wrong, and it could cost you

Do you recycle? Chances are you're doing it wrong, and it could cost you
Published: May. 22, 2018 at 12:54 AM EDT|Updated: May. 24, 2018 at 9:28 AM EDT
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Items you should be recycling. (Source: WOIO)
Items you should be recycling. (Source: WOIO)
Pizza boxes with grease on them. (Source: WOIO)
Pizza boxes with grease on them. (Source: WOIO)
Items you should throw in the trash. (Source: WOIO)
Items you should throw in the trash. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND (AP) - Recycling is easier than ever to do, but there's a good chance you're doing it wrong.

Across the country, recycling centers are overwhelmed and could be on the verge of collapse.

Cleveland19 found some surprising items you may be tossing in the recycling bin that may be ending up in the landfill.

Recycling makes many of us feel good.

"When you empty the cans, you rinse them out. You take the paper off, make sure you're not throwing the wrong materials in there," said Wayne Collins of Olmsted Falls.

"We have to do the right thing to help our planet and help our grandchildren and their grandchildren," said Judy Smith, who lives in the same neighborhood.

Smith works in housekeeping.

She does her best to sort recycling at work.

"The recycling container sometimes contains things that shouldn't be in there, so I try to empty the liquid content from the cups so that it can be recycled," Smith said.

Recycle the basics

Now that we throw all recyclables into the same bin, recycling experts say many people are throwing just about anything in there.

Cristie Snyder is with the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.

"Go back to the basics," she said. "Recycle only the basic items."

Snyder wants people to stop "wishcycling." Recycle things you know can be recycled, like cardboard and don't throw just anything into that bin, hoping it can be recycled-- because that can be a huge problem.

"It's hard on the machinery, it's hard on the people who are sorting the machinery. It's dangerous, it's hazardous," Smith said.

Click here to read about the dangers of "wishcycling" from Waste Management.

What should you recycle?

Cans, cartons, glass bottles and jars, mixed paper and cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and jugs.

"We want people to not look at the number. Think about the shape of the plastic. Is it shaped like a bottle, is it shaped like a jug?" Smith said.

It turns out that number on the bottom of your bottle is really a "chemical code."

Read more about what you can recycle from the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District here.

What should you throw in the trash?

Containers shaped like a clam shell, plastic cups and utensils, hangers, Styrofoam, plastic bags, takeout containers and produce containers, even freezer boxes.

"So that is actually a piece of paper, it's fiber coated with plastic. And they have a very hard time peeling that plastic from the paper," Smith explained.

Why can't you recycle some of these items?

Many items can't be recycled because of contamination-- usually from food.

Recyclable items should be empty and clean.

Sometimes that means even your pizza box has to be thrown out because of the grease.

Recycling contamination has increased and experts say that's jeopardizing the industry.

China is the world's largest importer of our recyclables and it just upped its standards.

Recycling must now be 99 percent uncontaminated.

Smith says non-recyclables are sorted out at a high cost, which could eventually be passed on to you.

"All of those costs will get passed onto the cities, or the facilities will decide that they just can't offer the services at all," she said.

Waste Management says its average recycling contamination rate is up to about 25-percent, meaning 500 pounds of every 2,000 pounds they collect at the curb is thrown out as trash.

The three R's

It's hard to hear some of these items you thought were recyclable are actually trash.

So how can you do your part as a consumer?

Remember recycling is the last step.

You want to "reduce and reuse" first.

It's as simple as requesting a drink without a straw when you go out to eat, and using cloth napkins and reusable silverware as much as possible.

Recycling fines

Some cities are starting to fine customers for trash mixed into recycling.

Starting Aug. 1, the city of Cleveland will be issuing $100 citations for trash and recycling violations.

Right now they are handing out courtesy warnings.

Read more about proper recycling here. Republic Services also has a tip sheet for recycling here.

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