This week, we continue last week’s discussion of some of the things we most need to not include in our recycle bins.

Scrap metal, other than steel cans and small pieces of aluminum, such as cans or aluminum foil, is just something the sorting machines cannot handle. Steel comes in many different forms that are not interchangeable and difficult to sort from one another. That’s also true to a lesser degree of aluminum, but more importantly, aluminum cans are usually returnable at a redemption center, and that is the proper place for them to go. Because the cans at the centers are separated from other materials, they are more easily reclaimed by a metal processor, so have a higher value as a commodity that is easily converted into new aluminum cans. By redeeming them, you also recover the deposits you paid for them when they were purchased, instead of giving the manufacturer a free $.08 (the deposit plus the processing fee the producers pay) on every can. We scream if anyone suggests a bottle or can increase in cost by a penny for a tax on our groundwater, but then we throw 8 cents away with every can we fail to redeem!

Plastic bottles, especially the clear plastic #1 bottles for soda or water, are currently some of the most valuable recyclables out there. They are also mostly redeemable, and, the same as with the cans, that’s where they need to go. Most crucially, neither a can nor a bottle should ever be recycled in any way with liquid in it. It should be obvious that liquids in the sorting equipment is a bad situation, but they are also very dangerous if the container is crushed with liquid trapped inside because it can explode under the pressure and injure anyone in the area.

Flattened cans and cartons are controversial items. The argument is that the sorting machines use the third dimension as one of the criteria for the sort. If the can and carton are flat, the idea goes, then they can sort together, so each will contaminate a bale of the other. Casella says their equipment will sort them either way. The cans are usually heavy and 3D enough that they will still fall through the sorting stars that pull out the paper, even if crushed, and the milk or aseptic containers are paper, so would go with the mixed paper anyway. The folks at ecomaine agree the paper cartons are fine flattened, but note enough flattened cans falling into the wrong bins that they prefer to crush those themselves after the sorting is done. That seems like the safer way to me. In the end, that means crush the paper cartons to save space in the bin, and redeem the cans, or leave them whole.

The redemption centers will take a few crushed cans, if you find one on the street, but do not want them that way on a regular basis.

Non-recyclable plastics. Clearly, these are not recyclable (I certainly hope!). The key there is to look for what is recyclable, and for that, there are three quick tests. One is that the item is rigid plastic (it will hold its own shape, unlike a tube or plastic bag that falls over), The second test is that is be a container, with or without an attached top, and the third test is that it have a recycling triangle on it with the number inside telling what type of plastic it is. Any type 1 through 7 will do in our systems, but the triangle and number need to be there. The clear plastic bubbles stuck to a piece of paper when we buy a toothbrush or batteries, for example, is rigid, and a container, but has no triangle. It is not a recyclable type of plastic.

The Recycle Bin is a weekly column on what to recycle, what not to recycle, and why, in Brunswick. The public is encouraged to submit questions by email to [email protected] Harry Hopcroft is a member of the Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee. This column is a product of his own research.

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