Talkin’ Trash

Recycling has been on the rise across the country. As consumers, we have learned a lot about what and how to recycle. At the same time, technologies and methods are constantly evolving, so there is always more to learn.

At a recent meeting of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO), I learned some new information from experts in the field. Three members of the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority (SCARRA) shared helpful information about how to best participate in recycling initiatives. Even though I consider myself well informed, I was surprised by a few things they told us. Did you know…


  • Trash and recycling programs differ by state and municipality. There are some universal guidelines, but the best place for information in your location is your local town government and/or trash company.


  • In some areas (like much of the state of CT), landfill space is no longer available. In many cases, collected trash is taken to a location where it is sorted by next step. Whatever can be recycled/reused/composted is separated out, and the remainder is either trucked to other locations (where landfill space is available) or burned. [Note: I learned that the technology for burning is very sophisticated, releasing primarily steam as the output. In contrast, waste in landfills is decomposed by bacteria, which release methane gas and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.] What used to be known as your “town dump” may now be more of a “town transfer station.”


  • Items collected for recycling go through a very technologically advanced sorting process. Since trash haulers compact collections, the first step of the process is to toss items up in the air to loosen them up.


  • Small plastic items tend to “fall through” the sorter and end up back in the trash during this process. For example, medicine bottles are too small, so even though they are plastic, they are unlikely to be recycled. Bottle caps, straws and disposable drink lids are other examples. There is no hard and fast rule, but plastic items larger than a yogurt container are most likely to end up recycled. That said, very large plastic pieces (such as storage bins and plastic toys) may not qualify for recycling in your area, so check before pitching them into a recycling bin.


  • Shredded paper and plastic grocery sacks should not go into the recycling bin. Although they are made of recyclable materials, they clog up the sorting machines, often requiring the whole system to be shut down so that someone can climb inside and pull the bits of plastic out. Instead, compost shredded paper or take it to a commercial shredder. Since commercial shredders have large quantities of shredded paper, they can compact it together and it can be recycled without having to go through the sorting machines. For plastic bags, check with local retailers. Many grocery stores offer collection bins. As with commercially shredded paper, these bags can be bulk packed together and recycled without going through the sorter.


  • Unused medications should never be trashed. Remove labels or ink out personal information, and then drop off at your nearby police station. Sharps also need safe disposal. A simple solution is to drop them into a large, plastic laundry detergent container. Be sure to the label the container “do not recycle,” so the trash hauler won’t toss it into the recycling sorter. To be extra safe, tape the lid of the container shut before trashing it.


Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency


  • You are probably contributing financially to recycling efforts for specific items. Towns or states often allow a tax on new mattresses or paint to help fund recycling of the old product.


  • Food containers need to be at least “mostly” clean. Peanut butter containers are often rejected because they are too soiled for reuse. The greasy part of a pizza box is another common culprit, as is dirty aluminum foil.


  • Some items seem recyclable but really aren’t. For example, large paper bags used for pet food are rejected because they have a waxy liner to block grease between the inner and outer paper layers. One option is to use the empty ones as trash bags, giving them one more use before being thrown away. Wax paper, Tyvek envelopes, potato chip bags, single cheese wrappers, zip-top bags and dryer sheets should also go into the trash.


  • To increase the odds of an item being a candidate for recycling, always separate unlike materials. For instance, remove the shrink-wrap label from plastic water bottles or the spout from a detergent bottle. The more “pure” a batch is, the greater its value and recyclability.


  • Recycling programs are constantly improving, but there are still some items that do not qualify, including pillows, clothing, sheet rock, wood, electronics, garden hoses and metal pots/pans.


  • Hazardous materials (e.g. paint thinner, drain cleaners, photographic chemicals, nail polish remover, oven cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, gasoline, kerosene, insecticides, pool chemicals, moth balls and rat poison) require special treatment. (One common pollutant in water sources today is used motor oil from DIY-ers pouring it into storm drains.) Most towns have one day a year for dropping off such materials, and many towns now offer year-round collection.


  • Just because an item can’t go into the recycle bin doesn’t mean it can’t have a second life. Used towels and blankets are often welcomed by veterinary hospitals, metal hangers can be returned to dry cleaners and yard waste can often be chipped up and used as mulch.


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Perhaps one of the most important things to know is that the rules and guidelines are constantly being updated. An item that was acceptable last year may now be off the list and vice versa. Professionals in the industry try and keep the public informed, but we should also take responsibility for doing what we can to use the systems properly.


Does any of this surprise you? Does your town follow similar guidelines?

32 thoughts on “Talkin’ Trash”

    1. I learned quite a bit myself, Janine. This is one topic I feel I need to revisit annually to make sure I am doing what I can. The last thing I want to do is increase costs because I am putting the wrong items into the bin!

  1. Wow, Seana! This is a fantastic post with so much great information! Thank you for taking such great notes and sharing this with us. As I work in many different communities, I am aware that each town has different recycling parameters. And in addition, each homeowner has their own compass for what and how much they want to recycle. Some are highly aware while others are not.

    The biggest surprise you mentioned had to with the small lids and bottle caps. I always put them in recycling, but it looks like that’s just clogging up the system. The same thing with our shredded paper. We put that out on paper recycling days, but perhaps we need to rethink that. We’ll check with our town.

    I’m going to earmark your post as a great resource. Thank you again for all the great info!
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Fantastic Questions to Easily Find Your Next Step AnswersMy Profile

    1. Pretty much all of us in the room were surprised by some of these facts. I couldn’t believe that caps and medicine bottles were getting rejected. This morning I had my husband help me unscrew the spout from my large detergent bottle. The shredded paper was also a surprise. When he said they were having to shut machines down multiple times and a day and workers were having to crawl in and “de-gunk” the system, it got my attention. That doesn’t sound like fun!

  2. I learned so much from your post, Thank you! Last year I attended a workshop on composting run by the Fulton County Watershed Management company. That was very interesting. As part of the class, I made my own composting bin. I’m finding that much of my kitchen trash I can compost. Also, lots of my yard debris now goes into my compost bin. I find that doing the composting has greatly reduced the amount of trash I put out.

    1. Composting is such a great option. It takes a bit of work, especially if you life in a place where the snow piles up during the winter. I compost yard waste, but haven’t gone for the food waste yet. Have you had any trouble with critters? I feel like I have an abundance of wildlife in my yard (even though it isn’t large!), and I worry about them getting in and making a mess…

  3. This post is beneficial and a great reminder for everyone to check their area’s requirements for recycling. I found that in our area of Pennsylvania, we use 3rd party trash removal companies so to understand our recycling options, we have to contact the company directly and get the details from them. It does cost a little more to do recycling, but I feel that it is worth it.

    We have a hazardous waste event several times a year in our county and to help my blog visitors, I share these dates when they are available. Last year, we went to one of these events, and they are well organized and boy, there were a lot of responsible people disposing of their paint cans, car oil, etc…

    Searching on Google the state with the words, “recycling events” will bring you to several government and local events in your area.

    1. How wonderful that your community offers multiple events during the course of the year. It can feel kind of de-motivating if you have to hold onto stuff in your garage for many months before you can actually get rid of it!

    1. I honestly didn’t know I needed to remove the wrapper from the bottle. I don’t use a lot of water bottles, but from now on, I will be sure to pull those labels off. There is always more to learn!

    1. There always seems to be something new to learn. I would have said I had it all figured out, and then found myself taking copious notes!

  4. Our town recently sent out an entire newsletter devoted to recycling including do’s and don’ts and resources for tricky items like hazardous waste. I thought I was doing pretty well but learned a lot from that newsletter and even more from your post! Great job sharing this important info!
    Mo recently posted…Beginner’s Guide To Italian WinesMy Profile

    1. I am so glad to hear that your town is helping people understand how to best use the system. I actually follow our town’s recycling center on Facebook and find it helpful. There is always more to learn, especially as technologies keep improving.

  5. Such a great wealth of info, Seana. I’ve been a bit of a recycle (and reduce) fanatic for years. Our recycle trash is always triple the volume of our trash trash. And more importantly, we’ve been reusing and reducing for years. (big smile)

    1. I definitely “feel” better when I reduce, reuse and recycle. That was one reason why I was so interested in this presentation. I have been doing a few things wrong, and I honestly want to be helping, not just going through the motions. Always more to learn and ways to improve!

  6. Thanks for sharing the wealth of recycling information you learned at your meeting! Each time I organize papers with a client, I have to ask them what their town allows. Some don’t mind mixing newspapers with cardboard and some municipalities are more strict, With one particular client, I’ve had to pull the plastic off the little window before putting the envelope in the recycle bin. Hopefully all of our recycling efforts will pay off for the planet in the future!

    1. That is an excellent example of a question I don’t know how to answer in my own town… the little plastic window. With all the differences by town, it can be hard to know what is the right thing to do. At least we are trying to learn and get better. At the end of the day, we all want to be making the choices that are best for our planet!

  7. I learned a lot and am guilty of the medicine bottle mistake. good to know these things. I also used to trash the bottle caps but then was told they are recyclable. I will go back to trashing them. Thanks for the help.

    1. Every town and municipality has its own rules, so always good to check with your provider before making a change. These tips applied to my local area, and I was surprised by a few of the points as well… certainly medicine bottles!

  8. Thanks for the information. I didn’t know some of these facts and it was very interesting for me to read about it. Congrats on your commitment to such initiatives.

  9. It’s really tough about the food stains, especially with peanut butter and pizza boxes! That seems so inevitable.
    I think a lot of it surprises me, but not all of it. Northampton, MA is really keen on recycling properly. I appreciate all the opportunities for guidance! So different from when I lived in NJ.
    Tamara recently posted…Floral Chocolate Cupcakes For SpringMy Profile

    1. The differences between communities makes this even tougher. We had a full discussion about recycling styrafoam during the meeting. My town accepts it, another nearby town does not. We were hopping online to figure it out!

  10. I thought the SCRRRA presentation at this month’s meeting was so informative! I’m glad you shared their great nuggets of info in this post. I particularly liked the one about using a detergent bottle to dispose of sharps!

    1. Yes, I had to dig a bit to find the source of that photo and get permission, but it was worth it. I think we were all taking notes, and Matt also wrote a blog about it. This is “our kind of thing,” right??

    1. Reusing does save money. Anytime I can get at least a second use out of an item, it feels good. We can all do our part to reduce, recycle and reuse as much as possible. That’s how we make a big different – everyone does a little:)

  11. Challenging one in Australia at the moment with our local Councils collecting our recycling waste (sometime contracted out), it being taken to waste wholesaler who ship it around the country, split it up and on sell it. With China’s recent ban on imported recycling waste, many councils are at a loss as to what to do with the waste given the contracts they already have.

    Maybe its time we stopped buying so much one off containers?

    1. This came up in our discussion as well, Arthur. The declining demand for recycling waste is going to create a new series of questions for recyclers. Reducing our use of disposable materials is always “first line” of defense. Many communities over here in the US are exploring ways to encourage use of reusable materials, such as fabric shopping bags instead of plastic ones. I hope we will continue to grow in our understanding and use of better alternatives!

  12. Thankfully, most supermarkets now have collection points for plastic grocery bags. We didn’t use many in the past but we accumulated hundreds when delivery drivers couldn’t bring goods into the house due to covid.

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