Recycling questions? Ask Metro
Questions about what goes in the bin – and what stays out? Find information online or call Metro at 503-234-3000.
And if you have questions about what’s happening with recycling right now and what you can do, Metro has answers. Check out this FAQ.
Calls and emails come in waves on a typical day at Metro’s recycling information center.
“You will definitely want to get that to a hazardous waste facility.” Pause. “May I get your zip code and find a place closest to you?”
Well-sourced staff patiently and meticulously walk callers through a mind-boggling number of recycling questions. Oregonians want to do right by the environment. And now, with changes to recycling markets causing ripples across Oregon, the U.S and Europe, it can be confusing.
But what goes in your home recycling bin hasn’t changed. And it’s more important than ever to keep the stuff that doesn’t go in your bin out. In the greater Portland area, almost all of the stuff getting collected as recycling from homes and businesses is still getting recycled. Keeping the stuff out that doesn’t belong there helps.
Here are eight things to keep out of recycle bins
1. Plastic bags
Do not put any kind of plastic bag in your recycling bin. Plastic bags, as well as “film” plastic like the stuff your toilet paper comes wrapped in, create huge headaches for recycling facilities. They jam up machinery and shut down work. It can take costly hours for facility workers to cut away plastic bags from the sorting equipment. Some retail locations such as grocery stores may take plastic film for recycling. Check with the stores you visit.
2. Plastic to-go containers
We see these clear plastic containers everywhere. They are popular packaging for anything from hardware supplies to deli items and produce. It can be confusing to find the triangular chasing-arrow recycling symbol on many of them but that symbol does not indicate what goes in the home recycling bin. Although some of these containers used to be recyclable at local facilities, recent changes in recycling markets leave them with no place to go. They now belong in the garbage.
3. Plastic bottle tops and lids
They are too small or too flat to be sorted properly. Bottle tops are often made from a different plastic than their bottles and cannot be recycled with them. Plastic lids – like the tops of yogurt or spreadable butter tubs – often end up at paper mills where they contaminate the recycling process. They go in the garbage.
4. Frozen and refrigerated food boxes
Most of these food boxes are penetrated with plastic. It’s great for protecting against freezer burn and soggy packaging. But it’s impossible to separate the plastic from the paper for recycling. Milk and juice cartons are exceptions - although they look similar to that waffle box or microwave dinner container, they aren’t made in the same way and can be recycled. Otherwise, as a general rule, if it came out of the freezer or fridge, it should go in the trash.
5. Coffee cups
Most disposable coffee cups, like frozen food boxes, are treated with a moisture barrier. The plastic or wax coating helps keep our beverage hot and our cup from leaking. These coatings are hard to separate from the paper, and that means our disposable cups are not recyclable and not compostable.
6. Take-out pizza boxes
There is no way to separate the cardboard from greasy pizza remnants. And these food bits contaminate the recycling process. Good news for residents of Beaverton, Forest Grove, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie and Portland: You can put them in your yard debris bin. If you live elsewhere, throw them in the trash.
Unless you’re willing to drive, all foam products including packaging foam, packing peanuts, egg cartons, meat trays, and cups belong in the trash. It’s proven difficult to find a technology that recycles Styrofoam into something usable without being too expensive, but one facility – Agilyx, in Tigard, is working on it. They’ll take your Styrofoam, but if you live in North Portland, that may not pencil out environmentally. Another option: See if your neighborhood mail store will take (clean) packaging peanuts off your hands.
Manufacturers no longer use mercury to make most household batteries. But button batteries – used in watches, cameras, calculators and toys – are the exception. There are other potentially hazardous chemicals in all batteries, though. The best option is to take them to a hazardous waste facility or collection event.
Can you skip the plastic?
Plastic is one of life’s short cuts. And recycling it is great – when you can. But there are some easy ways to cut the amount of plastic you end up having to toss.
Avoid or reuse produce bags
A quick rinse of the bags that held your lettuce or broccoli can double the bag's life. Once they’re dry, keep them with your reusable grocery bag in a place where they’ll get used – like your car or bike bag. You can also double up items in bags, or use cloth or mesh bags.
Pass on the package
Delicate cherry tomatoes transport well in containers, but consider buying slicers instead. The same goes for bagged fruit and veggies.
Make a salad instead
Those deli containers are convenient on the run, but some quick weekly prep at home can save you some plastic recycling angst – and some money, too.
Skip the guilt
When it comes to plastic, consumer choices are limited. And that’s frustrating. But reusing your produce bags, making an occasional lunch, or keeping your reusable drink container close at hand can reduce the everyday use – and disposal of – plastic. It’s a start.
-Toby Van Fleet