Food containers — such as those under Trader Joe’s nice pieces of salmon — are clearly plastic, but they have no number. Conclusion: They must be tossed into the garbage. Is that right?
Yes. Here’s a rule of thumb, courtesy of Katie O’Brien from the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services: “When in doubt, toss it out.”
Can mesh bags that used to contain citrus fruit and onions be recycled with grocery store plastic bags?
“Plastic produce netting should be placed in the trash,” O’Brien said.
Chaz Miller of the Maryland Recycling Network said, “If I operated an MRF, I wouldn't want them on the processing line.” (MRF is for materials recovery facility.)
As with plastic shopping bags, mesh bags risk becoming tangled in the equipment.
How about washed plastic that is used in packaging meats?
O’Brien said one of the biggest issues with recycling is contamination. Plastic that once enveloped raw meat will probably be brimming with nasties, unless you wash it.
Said O’Brien: “If the bag is dry and clean, you can drop it off in a plastic recycling drop-off bin.”
Those are the bins outside most grocery stores.
There’s one other issue that needs to be addressed: dry-cleaner plastic bags. At the end of each season I end up with a lot of them and I hate putting them in the trash.
Dry-cleaning bags may go in those grocery store boxes, along with shopping bags and newspaper bags.
My question is what about Ziploc bags and those with the slider? Can they be recycled with the grocery plastic bags?
Regular zipper food-storage bags — the kind you seal by squeezing the opening between your fingers — can be recycled along with other plastic bags.
And what of bags with the hard plastic slider? Answer Man checked with Trex, the Winchester, Va., company that turns bags into composite decking. A Trex representative said they take slider-equipped bags, so go ahead and drop them at the grocery store.
I was alarmed to read in your column that crinkly plastic like in salad bags can’t be included with filmy plastic for recycling. What about wrappers around bath tissue and paper towels?
Toilet paper and paper towel plastic, yes. Most everything else, no.
“Usually these materials are a hybrid plastic and can’t be separated,” O’Brien wrote. “If it's not labeled and not listed as an accepted material, throw it in the trash.”
A useful source of information about which plastic bags can be recycled is at plasticfilmrecycling.org, a website from the American Chemistry Council.
What we are supposed to do with our shredded documents?
This is an issue Answer Man was unaware of. Turns out, many jurisdictions don’t want you to add your finely shredded paper to the recycling. There are a couple of reasons.
“It goes in the truck and makes a big mess,” said Eric Forbes, who oversees recycling for Fairfax County. He likened shredded paper to loose feathers. “Once it’s at the sorting facility and dumped on the floor, it sticks to everything,” he said.
Containing the mess by putting it in a plastic shopping bag contaminates it with something that’s not recyclable.
Some jurisdictions, including the District, will accept shredded paper if it’s placed inside a paper bag and stapled shut.
And most jurisdictions host shredding days, when residents can bring in sensitive documents to be sliced and diced, as well as material that was shredded at home.
Here’s a comment Answer Man didn’t expect:
Some store bags are made of recycled materials. When they are no longer usable, they should be put in the trash. Recycled items cannot be recycled again.
“That’s totally ridiculous,” Miller said.
How would a consumer even know how many times the plastic in a bag or a bottle had been recycled?
So, by all means, recycle. And if you have questions about recycling where you live, seek out your community’s official website. There should be plenty of detailed information there.
Pushing the recycling envelope
And if you are really fascinated by recycling, check out the America Recycles Innovation Fair, 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday in the Pavilion Room of the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Exhibitors will showcase developments in recycling and display new recyclable products and goods made of recycled materials.
The fair is open to the public, but registration is required. For more information and to register, visit epa.gov/americarecycles/2019-america-recycles-innovation-fair.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.