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How To Make Sure Your Recycling Gets Recycled

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So now you know: Throwing all your recycling into a single bin ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Single-stream recycling may be more convenient, but, as we reported last week, it’s also to blame for a huge increase in contamination that makes your recycling unrecyclable. You think you’re saving the planet, but you’re actually just adding to the landfill.

Since that story came out, many readers have contacted me asking for tips on how to reduce recycling contamination. I went back and spoke with a couple of my sources, and there are definitely some steps you can take. Remember, though, some contamination is intrinsic to the way single-stream recycling works — you’re unlikely to fix the problem of crushed glass shards mingling with paper and plastic on your own. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help.

1) Learn your local rules

Recycling programs are not all the same. Some accept glass. Others don’t. Or you might be able to recycle one kind of plastic but not others. And that’s not even counting all the things that say they can be recycled on the packaging but that cannot be recycled via your home recycling bin. Don’t assume you can intuit what is and isn’t accepted. Cultural osmosis and reading the labels on packaging isn’t enough. You’ll have to go ask your specific recycling provider, said Bernie Lee, a commodities research analyst with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade association.

Yes, he means call up your city’s information hotline, or the county recycling center, or the company actually processing your recycling and ask what they do and don’t take. That sounds onerous, I know. Unfortunately, sometimes the public has to do the hard work when corporations and private services drop the ball. Recycling companies and municipal programs “really failed on education” as single-stream recycling became more popular, said Brent Bell, a vice president at Waste Management Inc., a national recycling hauler.

I heard that same thing from multiple sources. Recycling programs across the country apparently switched to single-stream, mailed out a glossy flier once, and expected that that would be enough for users to get it right. This has turned out to be an incorrect assumption. Like a lot of readers I heard from, I had always figured that if I didn’t know whether a thing was recyclable, I was better off putting it in recycling than in the trash. But the phrase you’ll hear from recycling experts is now “when in doubt, throw it out.”

2) Clean the food off

If you’ve got a can of soup or beans, rinse it out before you put it in the bin. Same goes for milk jugs, beer bottles, butter tubs, all of it. Those containers don’t have to be sparkling clean, Lee told me. No need to wash with hot water and soap, in other words. A cold swish will do the job. If they aren’t rinsed, the food scraps from cans and bottles could end up getting onto paper products, and that makes the paper harder to recycle.

“Paper makes up a majority of the residential recycling stream per tonnage,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, all that paper doesn’t fetch a super high price on the resale market. So contamination makes this huge proportion of your recycling even less valuable, upping the chances of nobody buying it and it ending up in the landfill. Rinsing away all the organic material is a relatively easy added step that can make a big difference.

3) Break down your boxes

Cardboard use has gone up 8 percent in the past five years, according to research by USA Today. But cardboard recycling has not kept pace. Online retail is a big part of both those trends, Lee told me. When we buy stuff on Amazon and other websites, we not only end up with more boxes being shipped to our houses, we’re also dealing with more boxes-inside-boxes — packaging nesting dolls.

Shoving those boxes into the recycling bin without breaking them down is not a good way to get them recycled. It’s harder for machines to process un-broken-down boxes, Lee said. And those boxes have things like tape and glue and labels attached — all of which are contaminants. (Also, stuffing the bin full of still-3D boxes means there’s less room for other recyclables, which then end up getting put into the trash instead.)

Instead, break boxes apart, pull off the tape, and get out the box cutter. Sorting machines work better if cardboard arrives in pieces no bigger than a standard sheet of paper, Lee said. And you can just cut off the parts with sticky labels and throw them out. Even if that feels like creating more waste, you’re probably really increasing the amount of material that gets recycled.

4) Consume less

Unfortunately, a lot of contamination isn’t caused by you directly. Which makes it hard for you to individually fix. Case in point: labels on plastic bottles. Those exist for a reason, Lee said. Drink companies have figured out that they have to get the right color and appearance on their labels or sales suffer. But the plastic used in shrink wrap or glued labels isn’t always recyclable, which can mean the bottles they’re stuck to are also trash — even if the bottle, itself, could have been recycled.

Companies are concerned about this issue, Lee told me. But there’s often a fundamental mismatch between what recycles best — a plain brown box — and what sells best — a box covered with glossy images.

And this is where we have to remember that our waste problems can’t be solved by recycling alone. Using less and reusing more should come first. For example: Glass can be a big problem in single-stream recycling. Crushed in trucks, the pieces grind into plastic and paper, making those things harder to recycle. Even whole, glass is often unprofitable to haul away and melt and repurpose — some recycling systems won’t even accept it for that reason. But if you buy stuff that comes in glass jars, you can wash those and re-use them at home. In that situation, the case for reusing the container is better than the case for recycling it.

Read more: The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End

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bakablur
244 days ago
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Good advice for everyone
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Name Dominoes

5 Comments and 8 Shares
In competition, you can only play a name if you know who the person is. No fair saying "Frank ... Johnson. That sounds like a real person! Let me just Google him real quick."
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bakablur
548 days ago
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Hey, why does Potter Stewart match with Stuart Little?
olliejones
547 days ago
Yeah, and Garnets may be made from rubies and sapphires, but is Garnet a person? Is she? Is she?
popular
546 days ago
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3 public comments
mindspillage
548 days ago
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How did he not title this "nominoes"?
north bay, California
alt_text_at_your_service
548 days ago
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In competition, you can only play a name if you know who the person is. No fair saying "Frank ... Johnson. That sounds like a real person! Let me just Google him real quick."
alt_text_bot
548 days ago
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In competition, you can only play a name if you know who the person is. No fair saying "Frank ... Johnson. That sounds like a real person! Let me just Google him real quick."

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Real Supervillain

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Thanks to the patreon typo squad for pointing out that the original version of this had given Bizarro the wrong skin tone. Nerds.

New comic!
Today's News:



Red Button mashing provided by SMBC RSS Plus. If you consume this comic through RSS, you may want to support Zach's Patreon for like a $1 or something at least especially since this is scraping the site deeper than provided.
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bakablur
584 days ago
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The Columbia Lions Are The Best Football Team In NYC

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One of the greatest turnarounds in college athletics is occurring in the media capital of the world, and you probably haven’t heard about it.7 The Columbia Lions football squad sits at 4-0 and on top of the Ivy League heading into homecoming against the University of Pennsylvania Quakers on Saturday. To say its undefeated start is shocking would be an understatement.

Just three years ago, I wrote that Columbia was taking part in the worst college football game of the year. The 0-8 Lions were hosting the 0-8 Cornell Big Red in Upper Manhattan. Columbia would lose that game 30-27 and finish the year 0-10. That season was part of a 24-game losing streak, which one might call a baby version of the Lions’ 44-game losing streak in the 1980s.

Indeed, Columbia hasn’t won more than four games in a season in more than a decade and hasn’t had a winning season since 1996. In fact, there have only been three seasons since 1982 when the Lions finished .500 or better:

Perhaps the strangest thing about what’s happening at the top of Manhattan is this: Columbia is arguably the best college or pro football team in New York City right now. The Giants are 0-5, the Jets are 3-2 (talk about weird), and all the other college teams that play in the five boroughs have worse records. (Though being the best college football team in New York City is like being the most accurate Stormtrooper.)

Bizarro New York

College and pro football programs in New York City as of Oct. 13, 2017

TEAM RECORD
1 Columbia Lions 4-0
2 New York Jets* 3-2
3 Wagner Seahawks 2-4
4 Fordham Rams 1-5
5 New York Giants* 0-5

*Technically not New York City

Source: ESPN

So how the heck did the constant losers turn it around and make this Lions fan8 very happy? It all started when the school hired former Quaker head coach Al Bagnoli in 2015. The team has progressed incrementally since then, and a look at the stats reveals that Columbia has improved in nearly every facet since entering the game against the Big Red three years ago. Simply put, the Lions are scoring a lot more points than they did then. Heading into that game against Cornell, they were dead last (out of 121 teams) in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with just 8.6 points per game. They had scored more than 7 points only once. But through four games this year, the Lions have scored at least 17 points every game and have put up an average of 30.3 points per game. That ranks 35th out of 123 teams.

The main cause of the offensive explosion has been an improvement in the passing game. Three years ago, Columbia ranked 52nd with 221.6 passing yards per game (YPG). This year the Lions have jumped to 21st with 276.8 YPG, thanks in part to the strong play of senior quarterback Anders Hill. Of course, as I pointed out in 2014, Columbia was always so far behind that year that they needed to pass pretty much all the time. In passing efficiency — which takes into account completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate and interception rate — Columbia has jumped from 120th to 21st.

Although the rushing game hasn’t improved anywhere near as much as the passing game, Columbia has shown it can move the ball on the ground. Heading into their 2014 game against Cornell, the Lions averaged just 51.3 rushing YPG. Again, that was dead last. This year, they’re up to 68th place with 136.0 YPG. As anyone who has ever watched football can tell you, the ability to both pass and run the ball gives you a better opportunity to fool the defense and score more points.

On the other side of the field, the Lions put one of the worst defenses in the country on the field just three years ago. They were giving up an average of 273.8 rushing YPG (120th worst in the FCS) and 246.9 YPG (100th worst). It’s tough to win football games when you can stop neither the run nor the pass.

This year, Columbia is doing a good job of stopping both. The Lions are giving up only 121.8 rushing YPG (32nd least in the FCS) and 194.8 passing YPG (39th least). In total defense (which combines both of these), Columbia ranks 26th for the least yards by giving up 316.5 YPG. That has allowed them to give up the 17th least points per game overall at just 17.3.

The Lions have also excelled at special teams, where their kicking, punting and return games have all improved dramatically.9 And they have a point differential average of +13.0 points per game, which is 16th best in the country. That’s 44.2 points better per game than when they had a -31.2 point differential that ranked 118th when heading into their game against Cornell in 2014.

So can this streak continue?

Columbia’s season is not even halfway to completion. The rest of the games are against Ivy League opponents, which will help to determine whether Columbia wins its first league title since 1961.

The team has had a little luck on its side. The Lions seem to be doing a little better on third down than their overall offensive and defensive ranking. Such success usually reverts to the mean. I’d also be worried about the fact that they rank 92nd in fewest penalty yards per game. Older Columbia fans may remember that a pivotal Marcellus Wiley penalty hurt the team dearly in its unsuccessful bid for a perfect season in 1996.

Even so, Columbia is off to an impressive start. It’s been strong in all facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams. Other New York area football teams (OK, mainly the Giants) could only dream of doing so well.







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bakablur
707 days ago
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Go Lions. Bizarro world.
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Grilled cheese argument ends in attempted murder charge

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A man has been charged with attempted murder after an argument about a grilled cheese sandwich.
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bakablur
983 days ago
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The important question isn't about the attempted murder, but rather whether the grilled cheese sandwich was just that good, and if so, what the recipe was.
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Indian butter chicken

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Indian food is easy to make at home, including this decadent recipe for Indian butter chicken that takes only 30 minutes to prepare.

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bakablur
1214 days ago
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