Supporting environmental sustainability means recognizing some of the limitations of what we can do at this time—and avoiding trying to recycle items that our area recycling program cannot yet support. The single stream recycling that we enjoy here in Fairfax County, enabling us to throw all recyclable items together, often leads to over confidence in what can and cannot be recycled. Including items that our recycling program is not able to accommodate, wish-cycling, can cause more harm than good.
Check out Earth 911’s description of the detrimental effects of wish-cycling: http://tinyurl.com/jasz8r9
Get informed so you don’t make mistakes. Learn some FAQs about recycling in Fairfax County athttp://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/navbar/faqs/recycling-gen.htm and specifics about what can and cannot be recycled at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/trash/dispaccept-index.htm. If you have private recycling, check with your hauler to find out what is—and is not— acceptable.
And things do change. For example, for many years, multi-layered cartons—milk, juice, soup, etc.—could not be included in Fairfax County recycling. This past summer, Fairfax County’s recyclers, American Recycling Center in Manassas, found a market for tetra pak, as these cartons are referred to in the industry, and added them to the list of acceptable items. Recycling cartons keeps more items out of the waste stream and, according to Fairfax County’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, “can generate revenue for a recycling program, offsetting some of the costs of collection.” http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/recycling/cartons-are-recyclable.htm
Tetra pak cartons are aseptic, free from micro-organisms, and are used for liquid food items so they can be stored for up to one year without refrigeration. This multilayered material is 75% paper, 20% polyethylene, and 5% aluminum. The paper part is what can be recycled relatively easily and is used to create recycled paper products and building materials. Although recycling of tetra pak is widespread in Europe, it has been very limited in the United States, with only 58% of U.S. households having access to carton recycling according to the Carbon Council.
Be an informed environmentalist and recycle properly! Be an environmental activist and encourage your recycling company to find ways to broaden what can be recycled!