you're reading...

10 Recycling Mysteries, Solved!

Editors Note: Another in our series of stories from our content partner Earth911.com

Candy Wrappers

Plastic-coated candy wrappers have long been a recycling dilemma because of their size, weight and lack of valuable, post-life material. But even though they’re tiny in size, they’re everywhere. In fact, Americans consumed 23.8 pounds of candy per capita in 2008 alone.

We are also big fans of the upcycling geniuses at TerraCycle, who collect hard-to-recycle items to create products ranging from book bags to fire logs.

The company has partnered with Mars to collect wrappers through its Candy Wrapper Brigade, a free program that pays nonprofits to help collect candy wrappers. For each wrapper collected, Mars and TerraCycle will donate 2 cents to the charity of the donor’s choice.

Latex Paint

David Ramirez, Household Hazardous Waste Technician for Gilbert, Ariz., says the best thing to do is bring the paint into an HHW facility or to an event. “We want to get it in the doors so we can determine if it’s usable or not and take away all those other dangers.”

The Gilbert facility recycles latex paint once it’s been determined that it can be reused. “We have three 55-gallon drums,” Ramirez says. “Two we use for all shades of brown, and the last one is for anything that isn’t brown, which usually makes gray.”

They pour the paint through screens into the correct drums and once the drum is full, the paint is pared down into five-gallon buckets that residents, organizations or the city can take for reuse. They even scrap extra paint out of the original paint cans so they can be recycled as scrap metal.


Bioplastics are biopolymers, derived from renewable biomass sources such as corn starch or vegetable oil. Polyactic acid (PLA) is one form of bioplastic, produced from glucose.Bio-based plastics are often touted as “biodegradable.” But this term has several stipulations behind it. While these products may in fact have components that are capable of degrading, this process only occurs under specific conditions and biodegradable plastics cannot be composted in a backyard compost pile. Because the material requires very high heat, these plastics can only degrade in a commercial composting facility.

Plastic #7

Recycling plastics 1-6 is usually pretty straightforward, as each category correlates with a specific resin. But plastic #7 is literally the “catch-all” category. Dubbed as “Other,” plastic #7 includes those resins that do not fit into categories 1-6, including most bioplastics.

Recycling programs for the “other” category vary greatly by location. Since it is such a broad category, many curbside programs will not accept plastic #7 at all. However recycling programs are changing collection guidelines, throwing out resin codes and accepting materials based on product.


Your medication’s label will denote if it can be safely flushed. If it does not, check the FDA’s websitefor a list of flushable medications and the substances that can contaminate waterways.

If your medication cannot be flushed, contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to check if your community offers drug take-back programs or other household hazardous waste programs that may accept the substance.

Pizza Boxes

Many people assume that pizza boxes are recyclable. In fact, most boxes have recycling symbols on them and are traditionally made from corrugated cardboard. They are, in and of themselves, recyclable.

However, what makes parts of them non-recyclable is the grease and cheese from pizza that soil the cardboard. Pizza boxes that are tarnished with food, or any paper product that is stained with grease or food, are not recyclable – unless you remove the tainted portions.


Find your local recycling solution
for tires

Many retailers that sell tires will accept a limited number when you make a purchase. If you’re in the market for new tires, be sure to ask if recycling your old ones is an option.

Your state may also have a waste tire plan, which would be headed by your state environmental department. Many states require recyclers to file for a permit to accept tires, so they will also know of locations that accept tires for recycling.

Plastic #5

Plastic #5 includes yogurt cups, hummus tubs or cottage cheese containers. Medicine bottles and some microwave-safe take-out containers, are typically made from plastic #5, or polypropylene. This type of plastic is lightweight, yet durable and can withstand high temperatures, moisture and oil, making it ideal for food and other containers.

If your community doesn’t have curbside #5 recycling, or there arn’t plastic #5 recyclers near you, here are two programs that can help: Preserve Gimme 5 and Aveda.


Many battery retailers will accept them for recycling. This includes both automotive and household batteries. You can also find mail-in programs that allow you to collect batteries over time and send them in all at once. You’ll want to properly prepare batteries prior to recycling, otherwise they could explode during shipping.

Once batteries are collected, any acids are drained for reuse, metals are reprocessed for recycling into new products and plastic casings are melted down and recycled into new plastics.

Expanded Polystyrene

It’s in our to-go boxes, our packing supplies, even in our fertilizer. Plastic #6 (also called polystyrene) is undoubtedly a pretty common material, as well as one of those mystery plastics that’s often hard to recycle due to its light weight.

While most curbside programs do not accept plastic #6 or EPS, there are several community programs that will recycle the material. A simple search on Earth911.com will pull up recyclers in your specific area. If there are no programs that fit your specific needs or are near your location, AFPR offers a mail-in program for consumers. Average shipping fees range from $1.50 to $9, based on the total packaging weight and volume.

Post by Amanda Wills, Managing Editor of Earth911.com. You can follow her on Twitter @AmandaWills.

Check out these other Earth911.com stories:

  1. See 1 Million Tons of Trash Art
  2. Dog Poop to Power Park’s Street Lamp
  3. First Zero Waste Grocery Store to Open in Austin
  4. SunChips Compost Experiment: Month 1

Join the Earth911.com community and follow Earth911.com on Facebook or Twitter.

About godsdoghowls

I'm Senior Manager for Community Engagement and Development at Greenopolis.com; a hunter and naturalist, rabbinic student and maple sugar maker, husband of Sara and father of 5 terrific children.


4 thoughts on “10 Recycling Mysteries, Solved!

  1. In the first paragraph you speak about Candy Wrappers, but you show a picture of chocolate, which is wrapped into two recyclable materials: paper and aluminum foil. Please take care of the details! We get more people involved in recycling only if we are showing what we speak about.

    Posted by Kat | July 28, 2011, 4:05 pm
  2. This is great information. In Germany, they also have cork collection sites. Do you have any idea where I can recycle corks?

    Posted by Tammy | August 1, 2011, 12:15 pm
  3. Recycling materials, particularly plastic, is a struggle. But I hope someday, we can find an ultimate solution on how to lessen the production and demand of virgin plastic (since it is mainly the major problem in recycling plastics) and to find a way on how to work this out soon.

    Posted by Plasticplace.net | August 3, 2011, 6:32 pm
  4. It is refreshing to see people caring about something. It seems like this day and age is a cold one. Great writing here. Can’t wait to see what else you all produce!

    Posted by Gregg Martinez III | August 11, 2011, 10:32 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: