Many people seem to not fully understand what is recyclable, and what is not recyclable. We’re going to talk about the proper way to recycle and compost, as well as other ways to recycle if you don’t have a bin picked up by your city like we have in Austin, Texas.
Here in Austin, most of us are very lucky to have bins for the landfill, recycling and compost. Yes, it takes work and critical thinking in order to distinguish what goes where. It complicates things more if the city doesn’t offer services. I personally have friends and family in areas that don’t recycle or compost, and they wish that could change. Ultimately, we must figure out what to do if we want it done. Owning your home makes composting simpler, because there are ways to use compost to nourish your personal garden. I know many of us want to keep as much as we can from going to the landfill (that’s a priority here at IREP).
Have you been to a landfill? Sure we’ve seen pictures or videos, but until you actually go, see and smell the place, it doesn’t fully set in. I’ve been and it was everything I expected, but that’s not a good thing. It really hit home once I was there, and just about anyone can go. Yes, each landfill works, looks and smells differently, but it’s the same idea. There’s also word around that the things we recycle still go to the landfill. I’m going to do my best to cover all the basis and share resources where you can learn more. Everything I discuss here is based on personal experience and the City of Austin requirements.
Following these lists will show you proper ways to recycle and compost in Austin.
What IS to be recycled?
CLEAN & DRY Plastic Bottles and Containers – Yes, that means you have to rinse out these containers, and dry them. Not spotless. Water, soda, detergent, & milk bottles. Chasing arrows doesn’t necessarily mean it’s recyclable.
Food and Beverage Tins/Cans – Aluminum and steel. Foil must be balled 2″ or larger. Aerosol cans, but plastic tops must be removed, and it must be empty. Multi-material aerosol cans NOT accepted.
Paper, Newspaper and Magazines – Coupons, junk mail, envelopes, cards, posters and wrapping paper (without foil or glitter). Wet, soiled or shredded paper is NOT, but it is compostable.
Cardboard and Paperboard – Yes, you should break down your boxes that are able. Don’t be lazy. NOT PIZZA BOXES (soiled)!
Milk Cartons, Juice Boxes and Food Cartons – Again, must be CEAN & DRY. These items also vary by city. Research how your area handles this.
Glass Bottles and Containers – CLEAN & DRY. This also varies by city and some communities have their own curb side pick-up or drop offs.
Children’s Toys – Only ones that don’t require batteries.
What is to be RECYLED DIFFERENTLY?
Batteries – They can not be put in the bin for recycled, but there are many places that will take them so you don’t have to throw in the trash. Look in links below.
Soiled or Shredded Paper & Cardboard – Mentioned earlier, but needs to be repeated. Shredded paper is too small, and soiled things won’t break down. COMPOST!
Household Items – Clothing, curtains, mini pools, fencing, construction debris, paint, tires, mattresses, and furniture. These are things you can donate, find other places or ways to reuse/repurpose, or SCHEDULE us at IREP, and we will take care of it.
Garage Waste – Very similar to household items, but also include scrap metal, car parts, tools, cylinders, propane and filters. Again, call IREP and we can sort these this for you.
Medical Waste – Needles, syringes, gloves, masks and other PPE items. Contact local places, or set up a MedWaste Tracker Box.
In order to help recycle and keep up with our 60% recycling goal, we have gently used items for sale at our online resale shop where you can pick-up, or ask for delivery.
What is NOT to be recycled?
Plastic bags – Bags from the grocery or convenience store, and garbage/trash bags. So often I’ve seen recycling dumpsters with trash bags full of recyclables. Places like Walmart have special bins for your single use plastic bags, or find a way to reuse them. KVUE video below explains.
Plastic Wrap & Film – Plastic wrap/Saran Wrap, bubble wrap, gum wrappers, sandwich and freezer bags/Ziplocs. Clean and reuse for presents, storage, or moving. Look for local options to consider.
Flexible Packaging – Chip bags, juice & soup pouches, and other packaging created from multiple materials.
Cups/Items with Wax/Plastic Coating and Lids – Convenience store cups for coffee or fountain drinks, as well as, wax/parchment paper and wine corks.
Polystyrene Foam & Plastic – “To-go” containers and cups. Foam peanuts too, but some shipping stores will take them for reuse.
Tangling Items – Hoses, rope, Christmas/ holiday lights, string, chains, wires and the like. They endanger workers and cause facilities to be shut down. If they are in good condition, then donate, or repurpose them.
Dirty Diapers & Pet Waste – This should be common sense, but this stated for a reason. These things can ruin recyclables. This includes kitty litter.
Fat, Oil &Grease – When you drain fat off meat, let it cool, put it in a sealed can, or something, then trash it. Don’t recycle or pour down drain.
Broken glass – Tough glass can be recycled, broken pieces can not.
Cigarette butts – The butt always stops here. Please do not throw them on the ground, they can’t be composted and you could burn the city to the ground.
Electronics – The City won’t take them in the bins, but there are local places that will. Check the “Helpful Links” below.
When composting items, you should know that normal trash bags are not compostable. You need special bags that are usually green. You can purchase them just about anywhere. Have an inside receptacle with the bag, fill it with your scraps and other compostable materials, tie it off, then put in your green bin outside. You can line bag and bin with paper products, leaves and sprinkle baking soda to help with smells.
Food Scraps – Cooked or raw meat (including bones), cheese, fruit, Vegetables, grains, pasta, eggshells, bread, coffee grounds, tea bags, nuts, candy, spoiled food.
Yard Trimmings – Grass, flowers, roots, straw, and small branches and limbs.
Natural Fibers – Popsicle sticks, sawdust (in paper bags), pet and human fur/hair, shredded paper (in paper bags), toothpicks, wood chop sticks, and untreated wood.
Soiled Paper and Cardboard – Pizza boxes, bags, napkins/towels, plates, cups to-go containers (no wax, plastic or metal), coffee filters, popcorn bags, newspaper and tissue.
What happens to the things I recycle?
This is a great question, and a concern many often have. Due to the fact that a lot of people do not follow proper ways to recycle, or compost in Austin, Texas, 15-20% of the things we recycle go to the landfill. In Austin we have two locations our recyclables go: North of the Colorado River go to Balcones Resources, and those living South of the river go to the Texas Disposal Center. The biggest problem we have is that numerous people put their recycling in a garbage bag, and put it in their bin. The next problem we have is not separating the multi material items. For example, a paper carton is mostly paper, but their is a plastic pour spout and lid. Those need to be separated from each other because the machine can not sort the two while together.
At the facilities, everything runs on a conveyer belt, and it goes fast. Workers have to quickly remove unwanted items, and because they move fast, they remove your whole bag from the belt, leaving your items to go the landfill. If something happens, the machine has to shut down and they stop for 30 minutes. For every 30 minutes at a halt, they can’t process 15 tons of materials. Learn more at the KVUE link and/or watch the video below.
Let’s help our city, state and world get as close to ZERO WASTE as we can! It’s only possible if we work together! Please, let’s lead by example and show the proper way to recycle and compost here in Austin, Texas. You can even be a volunteer! (See link below)
Follow us on Pinterest and find DIY/repurpose options for various items. pinterest.com/IREP_ATX/
Recycle What’s Not Normally Recycled
TerraCycle® has a mission to eliminate waste around the globe. Nearly everything we touch can be recycled, and they collect many non-recyclable items through national recycling platforms; taking hard-to-recycle materials, such as ocean plastic, and turn them into new products, and diverting millions of pounds of valuable resources from landfills all over the world.
They can give you Free recycling programs, Zero Waste Box™ platform, Municipal programs, Industrial waste solutions,
Regulated waste recycling, Event Services, and Shop Loop
Batteries – https://www.austintexas.gov/page/battery-drop-locations
Computer and E-waste Recycling – https://www.r3ewaste.com/computer-electronics-recycling-austin-tx/
Recycling Info – https://www.wm.com/us/en/recycle-right/recycling-101#:~:text=Non%2Drecyclable%20items%20are%20not,and%20cannot%20be%20recovered%20effectively.
MedWaste Tracker Box – https://www.wm.com/documents/pdfs-for-services-section/medwaste-tracker-system-by-mail.pdf
Composting – https://austintexas.gov/department/curbside-composting-collection
KVUE Recycling Article – https://www.kvue.com/article/news/local/20-of-austins-recycling-is-contaminated-heres-what-you-should-trash/269-cdd66025-9b65-49e4-a7a6-5652d2f956a6
Volunteer for the city – http://www.austintexas.gov/department/volunteer-city-austin