Righteous Recycling

Not everything you toss into the blue bin can be salvaged. Learn how to maximize your home recycling by choosing what’s worth the effort.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Alexacel

Every other Monday, I wheel a 64-gallon jumbled mess of milk jugs, shredded paper, and refried bean cans to the curb — then righteously rub my hands together, knowing I’ve done my part to save the planet. An A+ performance. I know the contents of my bin will magically be reborn as cardboard boxes, maintenance-free park benches, and rebar to build new cities. But after trailing my bin to a recycling facility, I learn that my performance is, at best, a D. I’m with Bill Keegan, president of Dem-Con Companies, a third-generation family-owned waste and recycling management firm serving Minneapolis-St. Paul since the 1960s. We’re joined by Jennifer Potter, community outreach coordinator.

Dem-Con welcomes thousands of visitors every year. The company has an interactive trailer it hauls to schools and festivals, along with virtual reality glasses that allow kids and adults to virtually step into the recycling process. Its goals are to help build a culture that recycles naturally and automatically, and to trigger a feeling of unease when people don’t recycle.

Behind the Scenes

Keegan, Potter, and I don blaze-yellow vests, hard hats, and safety glasses and head into the facility.           

We climb 30 steps to a platform overlooking the tipping floor, where collection trucks disgorge mound after mound of mixed recyclables. Keegan shouts over the growl of trucks and machinery, “People recycle twice as much stuff with commingled or single-stream recycling like this [where all recyclables are collected in a single container] than when sorting their own stuff into bins.”

Dem-Con processes more than 50,000 pounds of commingled recyclables per hour; of that, 8 to 10 percent is garbage that should’ve been trashed, Potter says. “People figure if something goes into the trash, there’s zero chance it’ll be recycled. It’s called ‘wish-cycling.’” But those errant items wind up contaminating other materials and jamming machinery, and can be downright deadly. According to Keegan, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

3/17/2021 12:10:48 AM

Great info, thanks.

3/6/2021 9:37:15 AM

Thank you for this article. I am am heavy recycler, I too thought I had it down! When I collect my recycling I put it in 'green' trash bags that are compostable. Now I need to rethink that approach. Do I take the extra step in rinsing out a plastic recycling bin (overuse of water) or still use the trash bags, but empty the contents into the recycling bin and throw the trash bag in the trash? I will also be honest and say if a plastic food container has too much gooey stuff, like peanut butter, I feel that the trash may be a better place. I do scrape, but here in Los Angeles, they want clean jars...so I worry, again about the water waste to clean the jar.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters