The trash basher: A primer on being a better recycler

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March 26, 2012
By: Nancy Lo
Nancy Lo
Many people try hard to reduce their impact on the environment and know a thing or two about recycling. So this article is not Recycling 101. The following tips assume you’re already recycling and want to do MORE. (And waste less.)

1. Organics:
The term refers to food waste and non-recyclable paper, aka compostables. If you’re lucky enough to have curbside composting service, are you collecting organics in your bathroom as well? Used facial tissues, cotton balls and cotton swabs with paper middles can be composted, not to mention pet hair, floor sweepings, paper vacuum cleaner bags and their contents, and dryer lint.

2. Paper, paper, paper:
It makes up 29 percent of our trash, more than any other material Americans throw away. We have to recycle more of it. (Did you know paper can be recycled five to seven times before the fibers become too short to use?) In Minneapolis, the citywide recycling rate was 17 percent in 2010, and it’s been decreasing over the past five years. Recycling rates are measured in tonnage, and paper is heavy. People are pretty good about recycling bottles and cans at home, but I consistently see recyclable paper thrown away. Try putting a separate bin or bag for paper right next to your trash can: in the kitchen, living room and home office. And don’t forget all the recyclable paper in the bathroom: toothpaste boxes, medicine boxes, toilet paper tubes. For a full list of paper recyclables, go to

3. Plastic bags/film:
Most people know they can recycle plastic shopping bags and newspaper bags, but may not know they can also recycle cereal bags, produce bags, bread bags, dry-cleaning bags, plastic wrap from paper products such as paper towels, shrink wrap, and bags with a zipper closure (but remove the zipper). Just make sure everything is free of food and dry. The most convenient place to take your bags will be to a grocery store, where there are usually recycling bins near the front door. For more details and participating grocery store drop-offs:

4. Bottle caps:
If you leave bottle caps on plastic bottles, they WILL get recycled — a relatively new development. But you must leave them ON the bottle. Otherwise when they get to the materials recovery facility, the caps are so small they fall through the sorting screens and off the conveyor belts. Same with beer bottle caps — put them into a steel can and press the top closed.

5. Away from home: When you’re not at home and there’s not a recycling container close by, don’t throw your bottles, cans and paper in the trash. Put them in your car or in your bag or backpack. Then, when you get home, put them in your recycling bin.

Nancy Lo lives in Fulton and has a blog, “The Trash Basher: Making Haste Toward Zero Waste,” at She was recently named the state’s Recycler of the Year by the Recycling Association of Minnesota.

Take it a step further

Reducing waste on the front end

Save the bag:
Many Minneapolis residents sort their recycling into paper bags. Instead, consider repurposing a small wastebasket, bucket or other small container less than 10 gallons in size that you find around your home. Call the city at 673-2917 to get free recycling stickers to put on your chosen containers, and use them for plastics, glass and cans.

Plan ahead: When you go out to eat, take some containers to carry home your leftovers, and avoid the Styrofoam take-out containers that so many restaurants still use.

Shop wisely: Buy recycled-content toilet paper, paper towels, printer paper — whatever you can. We as consumers have to create a market for the paper we’re recycling at home by buying the new products made from recycled materials. Or better yet, skip the paper towels and use cloth.

Waste less food:
Don’t throw your money away by getting rid of what’s still edible. My friends make fun of me because I’ll eat week-old food or cut a hunk of mold off and eat the rest. If your veggies are wilted, use them in a nice soup — no one will know the difference. And those “best by” and “use by” dates don’t mean food isn’t safe after those dates. They’re quality guidelines; use your judgment.