Know Waste Wednesday

As seen on Nextdoor, Public Education Supervisor, Karen Maynard, asks a waste-related trivia question using the poll feature every Wednesday. Click on the previously asked questions below to reveal the answers.

True or false? Styrofoam containers are accepted for recycling in Louisville?

Although it's misleading, Styrofoam products typically display a recycle symbol to show what type of plastic it is. However, this material is not accepted in Louisville's recycling program. The answer is FALSE. Try to reduce the use of Styrofoam instead! It should be noted that Foam Fabricators (950 Progress Blvd, New Albany, IN) does accept non-food contaminated Styrofoam for drop-off. Pieces must be free of tape, stickers, labels and may NOT have been used for food. A great option for those giant Styrofoam blocks used in packaging!

Where does our household recycling go?  Landfill, incinerator, storage, materials recovery facility, China?

The answer is Materials Recovery Facility, AKA – MRF (pronounced “merf”). Jefferson County’s household recyclables go to two MRFs – WestRock Recycling and Rumpke Waste & Recycling. If yours is picked up by Rumpke trucks, then it goes to the Rumpke MRF. All the other trucks, including Louisville Metro’s, take recycling to the WestRock MRF. At the recycling facility, the items are sorted, baled, and sent to manufacturers for further processing. (Our material stays in the US.) Of course, some items are contaminated or don’t belong - about 15% of the material received at the MRF cannot be recovered. 

Should recyclables be bagged and tied before placing them into the recycling container?

The correct answer is NO! We see a lot of recyclables tied up in plastic bags! Whether you are using a bin, cart, or one of our recycling dumpsters, please place items in the container loosely. Bagging recyclables not only slows down the sorting process, the plastic bags can get tangled up in the machines that help with the sorting. (The ONLY exception to this rule would apply to shredded paper; it may be recycled in a clear plastic bag.) If you use an open-top bin, place heavier items on top to prevent lighter items from blowing out.

Which bathroom item is NOT recyclable in Louisville’s recycling program? Empty shampoo bottle, Empty toothpaste tube, Cardboard toilet paper tube, Magazine, or Empty aerosol can?

The correct answer is… Toothpaste tube! All the other items ARE accepted in Louisville’s recycling programs. But we do ask that the plastic caps and/or tips are removed from the EMPTY aerosol cans before recycling. (Residents with Rumpke should discard those caps and lids in the trash. All other residents can recycle the caps, but please note that some very small items might not get recovered.) A toothpaste tube is typically a composite of polymer and aluminum, making it difficult to separate. Also, because toothpaste tubes are difficult to empty completely, the residual toothpaste can cause issues during the recycling process. (Some toothpaste tubes are now made of a material similar to a lotion tube. These would be recyclable.)

True or false? The recycling symbol and number printed on plastic means it should be discarded in your household recycling bin.

The correct answer is FALSE! The numbers are actually the “resin identification code”, or what type of plastic it is. The Materials Recovery Facility where the recycled items go has rules about which plastics are accepted. Some describe their accepted plastic by shape, and some use the numbers. If your recycling is collected by Rumpke, only plastic bottles and jugs are accepted. Other waste haulers, including Metro, accept numbers 1-7. Neither facility accept Styrofoam or plastic grocery bags, which both have a number on them. (Plastic grocery bags can be recycled at participating retail stores).

Which one of these paper items does NOT belong in your household recycling bin? Cartons, Junk Mail, Pizza Boxes, or Hard Cover Books?

The correct answer is hard cover books! Try donating them or, if that’s not possible, you could remove the covers and recycle the paper separately. Cartons – crush to conserve space, keep the lid on. Pizza boxes – remove all leftover food. Grease is ok. If you think it’s too saturated with grease, cheese and/or sauce, just recycle the top half and trash the bottom half. Junk mail – yes, window envelopes are ok to recycle!

Which of these items IS accepted at HazBin? Medical syringes, Swimming pool chemicals, Televisions, Used fireworks, or All of the above?

The correct answer is swimming pool chemicals! (Never put them with your recycling!) As for the other items, medical syringes should be collected in a strong, plastic container and placed in the garbage. (Never put them with your recycling!)Televisions should be donated or may be recycled at the Waste Reduction Center, 636 Meriwether Ave. Used fireworks should be disposed in the garbage. Soak any “duds” in water first.

True or false? Containers must be squeaky clean before being placed in the recycling bin.

The correct answer is FALSE! Containers should be empty, but they do not have to be squeaky clean. While it isn't required, it certainly doesn't hurt to wash or rinse your recyclables - it can help prevent pests and odors before collection. And the folks working at the Materials Recovery Facility won't mind either!

Which of these summertime trash items belong in your household recycling bin? Capri Sun Pouch, Whipped Cream Can, Spiral Lemonade Mix Can, or Drumstick Box?

The correct answer is Whipped Cream Can and Drumstick Box! The empty whipped cream can and the empty cardboard box are recyclable here in Louisville. Capri Sun pouches are not accepted. Those spiral cardboard containers are a mix of metal and cardboard, so they are also not accepted. (The plastic lids are accepted unless you are serviced by Rumpke.)

True or false? Old metal pots and pans can be recycled in your household recycling bin.

The answer is... FALSE! Old metal pots and pans can be recycled, but only at a scrap metal facility. They are not accepted in curbside bins or drop-off recycling dumpsters. Please donate any usable items, of course.

True or false? It is illegal to dispose of household alkaline batteries in the landfill.

The answer is… FALSE! Alkaline batteries are environmentally safe for landfill disposal! Although they can be recycled, it is a very expensive process. Participating stores like Batteries Plus will accept them for a fee of $1/lb. They can be recycled for free at our Household Hazardous Waste drop-off site at 7501 Grade Lane where the Waste Management District picks up the cost. Is it worth it? Well, that would be a topic for the Waste Management District Board to discuss…

True or false? It’s ok to leave caps on plastic containers when I recycle them.

The answer is… TRUE! And to conserve space in your recycling bin, you can squeeze the air out and then replace the cap.

In the recycling biz, what do we call items like hoses, string lights, and plastic grocery bags that are NOT accepted in curbside recycling? Wrap-arounds, tanglers, snagglers, or instant day ruiners

In the biz we call those pesky items “tanglers!” Anything long and stringy can get wrapped up in the processing equipment and can cause costly shutdowns. (Think about what happens when you accidentally vacuum over a shoestring…) Do the recycling facility a favor by keeping those types of items out of your curbside recycling bins and drop-off recycling dumpsters.

True or false? Compostable takeout containers can be recycled in my curbside recycling bin.

The answer is… FALSE! Compostable takeout containers aren’t as “eco-friendly” as they sound if you don’t have a way to compost them! If you don’t have a way to compost, into the garbage they must go. If you have a backyard compost pile, consider helping the process along by cutting the item into small pieces before composting. And remember, it’s best to REDUCE! Try to avoid single-use items!

True or false? It's ok to leave plastic windows attached to tissue and pasta boxes.

TRUE! You don’t have to tear that clear plastic window out to recycle those boxes or even window envelopes. During the recycling process, the cardboard and paper get broken down into a pulp. Items that don’t belong, like plastic, are filtered out and discarded.

True or false? Plastic bubble envelopes can be recycled in your household recycling bin.

FALSE! They can certainly be reused, but if you are disposing they should not go in your household recycling bin. They can be recycled, however, at participating stores that accept plastic film.

What's wrong with this picture of recycling setout? Cardboard is too big, aluminum cans are in a plastic bag, lids are on plastic containers, or all of the above.

The cardboard was fine, the lids SHOULD be on plastic containers, so the answer is... the aluminum cans are in a plastic bag! Remember, keep your items loose. BUT that brings up another point: that bin is very full! Those milk jugs could have been crushed (replace the lid) which would have saved some precious bin space. Residents may be able to put extra items in another container or purchase an additional bin or cart (check with your waste hauler to be sure).

Can old VHS tapes be recycled in your curbside recycling bin?

NO! They can be a big problem at the recycling facility because the tape inside will unravel and get tangled in the processing equipment. They ARE accepted with Electronics Recycling at the Waste Reduction Center.

What is the best disposal option for plastic flower pots and plant trays: Curbside yard waste, curbside recycling, curbside garbage, or drop off at garden centers?

The answer is... drop off at garden centers! Did you know Lowe's and Home Depot accept them back for reuse or recycling? They are accepted in curbside recycling (unless you're serviced by Rumpke trucks), but here's the tricky part - eventually the mixed plastic containers get sorted by optical sensors. Since the conveyor belt is black, the optical sensors don't read the color black! So the black flower pots might not get recovered...

Should candle jars be recycled in my curbside bin when the candle is gone?

The simple answer is no... Even if all the wax is gone, many candle jars are made from a different type of glass (than food and beverage containers) that withstands the heat of a burning candle. Our local recycling facilities don't want this type of glass in curbside recycling because it would be mixed with all the other glass containers. But before trashing the jars, try to repurpose them or find someone who can!

The simple answer is no... Even if all the wax is gone, many candle jars are made from a different type of glass (than food and beverage containers) that withstands the heat of a burning candle. Our local recycling facilities don't want this type of glass in curbside recycling because it would be mixed with all the other glass containers. But before trashing the jars, try to repurpose them or find someone who can!

True or false? It's ok to leave staples in paper or cardboard when recycling.

The correct answer is TRUE! Equipment at paper mills that recycle recovered paper is designed to remove things like staples, so you don’t need to remove them before recycling.

True or false? If all my recycling got collected, then I must have recycled right.

FALSE! The collection crews do not typically take the time to look at the contents of each bin or cart. Waste haulers will occasionally perform contamination audits and those will happen ahead of collection. Do your best to recycle right by following the local guidelines posted on our website (some Rumpke exceptions are noted), and better yet, use the Recycle Coach app to search What Goes Where!

True or false? In Louisville, empty pizza boxes are accepted in curbside and drop-off recycling.

TRUE! Grease is ok – those pizza boxes will be mixed and baled with a lot of other cardboard that isn’t greasy, so in total it’s minimal for the paper mills. Our local facility has not had any contamination issues with their paper mills due to pizza boxes, so please recycle!

When throwing away plastic candy wrappers, should they go in the trash or recycling bin?

Plastic candy wrappers should go in the trash. Halloween is a great time to teach kids about littering and remind them not to litter their wrappers while trick-or-treating

True or false? It's ok to leave plastic wrappers on flyers, catalogs and magazines when recycling.

FALSE! You definitely want to separate the plastic from the paper and recycle the paper in your curbside bin. The plastic is accepted at participating retail stores that have a bin for plastic bags/film.

In the United States, about 25% of what gets recycled ends up in the landfill. This is called the contamination rate. How do you think Louisville measures up? Is our contamination rate lower, higher, or about the same?

LOWER! WestRock Recycling, where the majority of Louisville's residential recycling goes for processing, confirmed that we have a 8-10% contamination rate - well below the national average! In other words, only 8-10% of the material that comes in to their facility is not acceptable and has to go to the landfill. (As of September 2021)

If your holiday lights aren't working, how can you dispose of them? A)Electronics recycling drop off, B)Curbside recycling, C)Garbage, D)Either A or C

A or C! They are accepted for drop off with our Electronics Recycling program at the Waste Reduction Center, 636 Meriwether Ave. But, if you don't do that, please do NOT put them in curbside recycling! They are considered a "tangler" and can cause problems at the Materials Recovery Facility. Garbage is the other option.(Other metal recyclers and hardware stores may also accept for recycling.

True or false? Leftover cooking oil from deep frying can be recycled.

The answer is TRUE! Maybe not curbside, but you can drop off used cooking oil for recycling at our three Full Service Recycling Drop Off locations. And definitely DON'T pour it down the drain or outside!

Are used K-Cups accepted in curbside recycling? A)Yes, just toss them in, B)Maybe, but they have to be empty, C)No, toss it all in the trash.

The answer is B! If your recycling is picked up by Rumpke, the pods are not accepted because they only take plastic "bottles" (neck is smaller than base.)But all other haulers, including the city, take recycling to WestRock and they accept all plastic containers. The pods do need to be empty with the peel-off lid removed. They can be stacked together for a better chance of making it through the sorting process, since they're small. Better yet, get a reusable filter!

Are plastic pet food bags accepted in curbside recycling?

NO! Unfortunately, they cannot be recycled at the curb or at our drop off recycling dumpsters. But there are tons of ways to reuse them! For example, I've sewn the plastic woven kind into reusable tote bags! They could also be used as trash bags, just to give them a purpose before going into the garbage.

True or false? Used wrapping paper and torn gift bags are accepted in curbside recycling.

TRUE! Just remove non-paper handles or decorations from gift bags first. And of course, reuse when you can! Or try wrapping with reused items!

Are shopping receipts accepted in curbside recycling? Definitely not or yes, but there's more you should know.

The answer is YES, but there’s more you should know! Although it’s all accepted in the bin, there are two types of receipts – paper ones printed with old-fashioned ink and thermal paper ones that are printed through a heat process. The thermal receipts may contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which can be harmful to our health and raises questions about whether it should be mixed in with other recycled paper. The good news is some companies are now making BPA-free thermal paper receipt rolls and even Phenol-free paper that doesn’t use BPA or BPS. When given the option, say no to a printed receipt!

In Louisville's Solid Waste Study released in 2018, which category of waste was found to make up most of Louisville's landfilled trash (by weight)? Food waste, Corrugated cardboard, Textiles, or Treated lumber

FOOD WASTE! The chart attached is from Louisville’s Solid Waste Study, released in 2018, and shows the top 10 materials disposed in Louisville and their annual tons. Check out the EPA’s website for ways to reduce wasted food! Link to Solid Waste Study

Does packaging tape need to be removed from cardboard boxes in order for them to be recycled?

No! You can recycle even with the tape attached. If you do remove it, place the tape in the garbage.

Which pictured fast food packaging items are accepted in curbside recycling? The picture showed a paper cup, French fry container, hamburger wrapper, and a plastic condiment cup.

The answer actually depends on who collects your recycling! For Rumpke customers, the answer is “None of them.” For all other customers (including city collection and recycling drop-off dumpsters) the answer is “All of them.” WestRock Recycling (where most of Louisville’s recycling is processed) committed to accepting most takeout containers through a community partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute in 2017. They also have the benefit of owning their own paper mills. Don’t trash your takeout, recycle it!

What happens if your recycling gets all wet from rain - is it ruined?

Although it is best to keep your recycling dry, it is generally not ruined from being in the rain. The one item that could get ruined is cardboard. If it is so saturated that it starts to pulp, it won’t make it through the sorting process. 

Our Recycle Coach app has the What Goes Where search tool to find out how to best dispose any item. Which item has been searched the most? Household batteries, mattresses, furniture items, or light bulbs.

Those four items are actually our top 4 most searched items. Furniture items is number one, followed by household batteries, light bulbs, and then mattresses.

Are plastic can carriers accepted in recycling?

If your recycling is collected by the city or other haulers besides Rumpke, the answer is yes! (Remember, Rumpke only accepts plastic containers that have a mouth smaller than its base.) The can carrier in the photo says "rHDPE" which means it is recycled HDPE. So, the product was made from recycled plastic and can be recycled again!

Are spiral wound containers (paper body, metal rims) like a Pringles can accepted in recycling?

Yes! The paper mill can handle the pieces of metal during the pulping process. 

Which item should NOT be placed in a backyard compost system? Egg shells, meat, dryer lint, or toilet paper tubes

The answer is... MEAT. In a backyard compost system, meat can attract unwanted pests like rats, raccoons, cats, flies and maggots, and it will become very smelly. But egg shells, dryer lint, and cardboard tubes are great additions to the pile!

True or false? You may put yard waste (bags of leaves, plant trimmings, etc.) in your garbage cart.

The answer is…FALSE! It is actually against Louisville/Jefferson County Ordinance 51.509 to mix yard waste with any other solid waste placed out for collection. This is, of course, so the yard waste can be composted and kept out of the landfill.

True or false? The recycling symbol on the bottom of foam takeout containers means I should recycle them.

The answer is... FALSE! The recycling symbol has a number 6 inside and PS under it. The number and letters are indicating it is the #6 plastic called "polystyrene." When polystyrene is in its foam form, it is not accepted in our recycling program. We don't have a local way to recycle those foam takeout containers or foam cups, plates, etc. It's best to try to avoid using them in the first place! Although all plastic numbers are accepted, there are exceptions to the rule (like the #6 foam items). Reminder to Rumpke customers about plastics: recycle plastic bottles and jugs only.

True or false? Paper cartons are accepted in curbside and drop-off recycling.

TRUE, paper cartons are accepted in recycling! It's ok that there is a plastic spout. You can remove the cap and discard or reuse. (It can be recycled, but it's so small it may not get recovered during the sorting process.)

What can I do if my recycling container is overflowing?

Take extra recyclable items to a recycling drop-off location or set out extra items in a reusable container along with your regular bin or cart. Do NOT put your items in plastic bags, they are a problem at the sorting facility

True! Although toilets might not be collected at the curb, they can be dropped off as a large household item at the Waste Reduction Center. Louisville residents can drop off up to three large household items per day for free. 

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