How to Follow the Rules of Recycling and Not Do More Harm Than Good

"We need everybody consistently doing the right thing, which is empty, clean and dry"

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Many of us have a recycling bin in our home and make an effort to do the right thing for our planet. But if you’re not following the rules, you could be ruining your neighbors’ efforts too.

News4 visited a Republic Services recycling facility in Manassas, Virginia, earlier this year. Everything you toss into your recycle bin makes its way onto a conveyor belt at the sorting facility, where workers have to quickly grab the items that shouldn’t be mixed in.

We saw full bags of trash, tarps, floor mats and even an X-Box!

Machines work to weed out unwanted items but too many mistakes can cause the entire system to break down. Plastic garbage bags can get caught in the system and cause it to shut down, which is why you should never put your recyclables in trash bags.

These costly mistakes may cause your recycling fees to go up. And your efforts to save the planet are thrown away.


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Before you toss jars or cans into your recycling bin, be sure to remove the labels, rinse them out and let them dry. If you don’t, it can contaminate an entire bale of recyclables.

“It's not just your one little yogurt cup. It ends up being several little yogurt cups that come in, which is why we need everybody consistently doing the right thing, which is empty, clean and dry,” said Matt Henry, Area Director of Operations for Republic Services.

Henry says it’s okay to flatten your cans, but not your plastic bottles. That’s because magnets will grab the metal, but smaller plastics will fall through the cracks and end up in the trash pile.

One of the most dangerous things that get tossed into recycling bins that don’t belong are lithium batteries, even those as small as the ones found in singing greeting cards.

“Those get into the waste stream, so if we run over them with a loader or they get back into a bale or get crushed, they start a fire,” Henry said.

You can recycle the card after removing the battery. And be sure to recycle all batteries at a site that accepts e-waste; don’t throw them in the trash.

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