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Summit County needs NEW and BETTER education on curbside recycling

We all know that recycling is “The everyday way to save the world.” I mean, who doesn’t want to save the world?

With that in mind, we have a question for you. Which of the following can be put in your curbside recycling bin?



If you aren’t 100% confident, you aren’t alone. In a recent newsletter from Recycle Utah, it says up to 60% of curbside recycling may be contaminated. Bins (or items in the bins) can become contaminated when they come into contact with food waste, styrofoam, yard waste, glass, etc. That may mean that your entire bin is thrown out.

On social media, people have also talked about plastic grocery bags not being allowed, with some contacting Republic Services (the people who pickup and are responsible for processing our recycling) who apparently have said plastic grocery bags are OK. Another citizen contacted Summit County and was told that it was not OK, because it gums up the processing.

We’ve also heard that if you put your recycling in a plastic garbage bag, the entire bag will be thrown out. Others have said that is not a problem. Imagine that you think you are doing great by the environment by saving up 50 soda cans and then put them in a plastic bag inside your recycling. If, of course, they really get thrown away.

It’s frankly confusing and it’s caused my family to recycle less. It’s frankly a mental hurdle. Can I put the Digiorno Frozen pizza box in the recycling? UHHH… it’s a pizza box so you’d think no… but it’s cardboard and shouldn’t have food on it, so probably? Can I put the cardboard the frozen pizza sat on (inside the box)? It is cardboard, so I’d think yes… but is that grease or just water that has stained the cardboard a bit… so, probably no? How about the plastic wrap that went over the pizza? It’s plastic, so I’d think it’s OK, but I could see how it could gum up processing… so no (I guess)? That’s confusing and that’s just one lunch.

As part of the contract with Republic Services, they are responsible for education on the topic (here is their web page on the topic). I believe Recycle Utah also has a part in that education, too, as does Summit County. Whoever is ultimately responsible for that education, needs to rethink how it is being done.

I was at a dinner party last night and four out of the five of guests said putting plastic grocery bags in recycling was fine (the equipment sorts it!). Are they right? I don’t think so… but maybe? It just highlights the confusion out there.

Oh, and here are the answers to the question at the top as to what can be recycled in curbside bins (at least as I understand it):

  • Plastic milk jug: Recycle
  • Plastic bag: DON’T Recycle
  • Pizza Box: DON’T Recycle
  • Horizon Milk (and other waxy cartons): DON’T Recycle
  • Cardboard: Recycle (as long as it doesn’t have food on it… does liquid count as food?)
  • Tin/Aluminum Cans: Recycle (how much food in them is considered contamination? I don’t know.)
  • Glass bottles?: DON’T Recycle
  • Coffee bag: I have no idea.

Finally, you can recycle many items by taking them to Recycle Utah and recycle glass at many parking lots (i.e. the Jeremy Park and Ride). However, that’s not really the point of this story. The point is that most people want to do the right thing but they generally do the easy thing.

Something needs to be done to CHANGE the way people are educated about what can be recycled in our curbside bins. It needs to come from one source. It needs to be pinpoint accurate. It needs to be complete (i.e. figure out a way to explain recycling everything in that Digiorno box…and give us real life examples). It needs to be the final word.

Until a better job is done educating residents, it’s like throwing half your recycling in the landfill. Even if you are doing the right thing, your neighbor’s choices may ruin your recycling too. That just doesn’t feel very good.




1 Comment

Juli Bertagnole

You are absolutely dead on. I have tried, hard, to figure out what they will and will not take to no avail. The biggest problem is that they pick up every other week. My garbage bin is empty and doesn’t need weekly pickup, while the recycle bin is overflowing. They need to reverse the pickup!

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