Helen Thompson in Smithsonian:
Recycling technology has improved a lot over the last decade, which in a way has made the logistics of what you can and can’t toss in the recycling bin a lot more confusing. “All garbage goes somewhere; it does not go away. So we must all take more responsibility to sort our discards into the proper bins,” says Robert Reed, a spokesperson for Recology. Recology runs recycling collection programs along the west coast including San Francisco’s highly successful program, which recycles about 80 percent of the city’s waste. Doing a bit of research before you try to recycle can make all the difference. Recycling rules of course vary from one municipality to another, but here are a few ways to improve your recycling routine.
Don’t put your recyclables in a plastic bag.
It’s not that we don’t have the technology to recycle plastic bags. They just cause a lot of issues in the recycling process. Though the type of plastic (#2 and #4) that’s used to make plastic bags is recyclable, throwing them in with the rest of your recycling has ramifications down the line. “Plastic bags cause problems in all of our operations,” says Reed. “They wrap around and jam recycling equipment. They contaminate paper bales. They cause problems at our compost facilities. They blow off of landfills and wind up in waterways and oceans and seas.” If you accumulate a lot of plastic bags, your best options might be recycling programs that focus exclusively on them. Many grocery stores collect plastic bags, and some city recycling programs offer plastic bag pick-up or drop-off programs. In some cases, recycling programs may ask users to put items like packing chips or shredded paper in plastic bags.