Recycling can be complicated. For years I’ve assumed that I knew what could and couldn’t be recycled but as I started looking into it I realized that I was getting a lot of things wrong and here’s why – every recycling facility has different procedures, and different pick up companies may use different recycling facilities. When I contacted ours for a printable sheet to put on our fridge, they sent me a page that conflicted with their website and when I emailed them they said “oops” and sent me the right one. It’s confusing. No wonder people skip it.
For links to informational flyers for some popular local companies, click here. It’s worthwhile since our company takes a lot more than I thought they would (and every company is different).
Trying to figure this out led me to understand what my friend Beth said – a lifestyle of minimalism is a natural extension of a zero waste lifestyle. If you don’t consume it, you don’t have to worry about what to do with it when you’re done. The absolute golden standard is buying food in glass jars you reuse. Glass because it can be recycled forever, and reuse because you save a ton of energy that way.
We were excited to find out that Byrne Dairy has reusable glass bottles that you can buy milk in. It tastes so much better than the plastic jugs and is not much more expensive. You’re saving the plastic production and recycling by reusing the bottles (and you’re supporting a local company!). The orange juice is just from concentrate though, so we didn’t buy that again, and the chocolate milk didn’t compare to Intense Chocolate milk, which is our favorite. But we have completely switched all of our white milk over to Byrne Dairy.
I’ve read that you can also use mason jars to buy in bulk in some places, but we haven’t tried that yet.
I have plans to try home made cliff bars, gummies and am going to attempt to replicate my favorite granola. But you have to be careful with this too because many of the ingredients come in plastic so that you’ve created more work for yourself with no environmental benefit.
But even if I’m successful with these, it’s hard to completely get away from plastic packaging because it preserves food. In fact, the more “natural” the food, the “better” the plastic needs to be in order to avoid the use of preservatives, which means it’s harder to recycle (this is according to my husband who has his PhD in chemical engineering, so I’m using him as a source).
The bottom line for us is that we won’t be able to completely ditch plastic packaging for a while so I needed to figure out what to do with it in the meantime.
First, do DO NOT put plastic bags in your curbside bin. They jam the recycling equipment and hinder the recycling process. They have to be handled separately.
This is true of every recycling company all over the country.
However, you can recycle them at Wegmans and other major grocery stores (If you’re not from Rochester, you can look up drop off locations by clicking here). Wegmans has bins at the front of the store for #2 and #4 plastic bags. Below is a printable flyer.
It comes in handy because they aren’t labeled, which of course further complicates the process. This setup isn’t as great as curbside since it’s one more thing to remember when you go to the store, but it’s not an extra trip anywhere.
This is a video of my daughter detailing what can be recycled at Wegmans and other major grocery stores. Also please note that the salad bag was actually a regular ziploc bag for lettuce. Salad bags with premade salad are currently not accepted for recycling anywhere (that I’m aware of).
This leaves us with all sorts of other plastic bags that Wegmans won’t take, such as egg noodle bags, chip bags, and KIND granola bags (I actually emailed Frito-Lay and KIND to verify that they are in fact #7 plastic and not #2 or #4). I assumed Ecopark wouldn’t accept them, but I was jumping up and down to learn that they accept all types of plastic bags. An industrial engineer there emailed this response, “Chip/pretzel/etc. bags are accepted (regardless of number) as long as they are not Mylar (foil). So, if it’s not metallic-looking, it’s OK.”
These are #7 plastic bags, which Wegmans does not accept.
This creates a complicated waste stream though. For us this means:
- Reducing what we buy in plastic bags (e.g. mushrooms from the bulk section)
- Taking plastic films to Wegmans (so we don’t have to frequent Ecopark as much)
- Taking all other plastic bags to Ecopark (limited hours, but they recycle almost anything that can be recycled)
- Recycling our foil lined products through Terracycle (a free mail in program)
We’ve gotten used to sorting more than we used to, but I will be working to reduce our use of plastic bags because it’s a pain to get rid of them. What comes in plastic that would be hard for you to give up?