Monday, October 17, 2011

A new crop of MRCs

The fall Master Recycler/Composter training classes are well underway, and Carolyn's gotten some good feedback -- people are finding the sessions interesting and informative. She asked me to help out by putting together a recycling sorting activity two weeks ago, and I threw in some tricks. Want to test your knowledge? Scroll to the bottom.

A full house

Consulting their MRC manuals ...

I think the range of ages is awesome.

MRC recycling activity

Which of these items can’t be recycled/composted at home? And if they can’t be recycled at home, can they be recycled elsewhere? Where?

1. plastic bottle caps

2. metal bottle caps

3. aluminum foil

4. pizza boxes

5. #1-7 plastics

6. foam foodware/blocks

7. boxboard vs. freezer/fridge boxes

8. film plastic (bread bags, chip bags, Ziplocs, paper towel wrappers, ice bags)

9. electronic media (DVDs, computer disks, cassette tapes)

10. natural cork

11. aseptic/gable-top containers (juice boxes, tofu boxes/milk cartons, juice cartons)

12. paper (windows in envelopes, spiral notebooks, toilet paper rolls)

13. chip bags, cookie packaging, granola bar wrappers, candy wrappers

14. rags/linens


1. Plastic bottle caps (made out of polypropylene, PP, or #5 plastic) will be recycled as long as they’re left ON the bottles – this is a fairly recent development. If they’re loose in your recycling bin, once they arrive at the materials recovery facility (MRF) their small size means they fall through the screening machines. After the bottles (made out of polyethylene, PETE, or #1 plastic) are sent to a processor, they’re shredded. The now-separated bottle caps are collected separately, and those are then recycled, too.

2. Metal bottle caps will be recycled if they’re put into a metal can and the top is squeezed shut. Otherwise if they’re loose in your recycling bin, once they arrive at the materials recovery facility (MRF) their small size means they fall through the screening machines.

3. Aluminum foil must be free of food. Aluminum foil that is recycled with aluminum cans tends to turn to ash because of its thinness and smaller volume compared with cans. Foil has a better chance of being recycled if the foil is in larger pieces. Aluminum pans that are fairly clean can be recycled with cans.

4. Pizza boxes are recyclable in cities that use Eureka Recycling. This is a new program for Eureka. Pizza boxes are traditionally not recyclable because the oils soak into the paper, but pizza boxes have always been compostable. Galactic Pizza in Minneapolis uses their pizza boxes as a coupon – bring them back to the restaurant for $1 off and Galactic composts the pizza box.

5. Plastics #1-7 are recyclable at Eastside Food Co-op. Their parking lot is the drop-off site on Thursdays and Saturdays. They also accept plastic bags (aka plastic film). These #1-7 plastic tubs and containers differ from #1 and #2 bottles that are accepted curbside because of the way the plastics are molded. Bottles use a blow-molded process while tubs and other containers use an injection-molded process. There are strong markets for #1 and #2 blow-molded bottles. See below for more info:

For containers with a neck -- that is to say bottles -- they are produced through a blow-mold process, where the melted resin is blown like a balloon in to a mold. To make a stretchy balloon resin you need really long chains of plastic. On the other hand, tubs are produced by injecting the melted resin into a mold, so the chains need to be short so as to squish into all parts of the mold. So the yogurt tub is made of short HDPE, and the detergent bottle is made of long HDPE.
· Injection molding makes solid parts, like a Frisbee®, while blow molding makes hollow parts, like a soap dispenser.
· Blow molding, by its nature, makes parts whose wall thickness will vary from place to place, based on how much the material has to stretch as it is being blown. An injection-molded part's thickness is determined by the mold and core relationship.
Allied and Waste Management will begin collecting #1-7 plastics curbside in January 2012.

6. Foam (expanded polystyrene) foodware isn’t recyclable in Hennepin County despite the #6 symbol on the bottom. Packing peanuts can be taken to a UPS store for reuse. Foam blocks are not recyclable in Hennepin County, but are recyclable at the Coon Rapids Recycling Center (Anoka County).

7. Fridge/freezer boxes are not recyclable with paper products. The paper used for boxes intended for refrigerated and frozen foods contains a wet-strength chemical to help the fibers resist tearing if they get wet. Fridge/freezer boxes ARE compostable.

8. Many types of film plastic (usually LDPE #4 or HDPE #2) are recyclable through the It’s In The Bag program, which has drop-off boxes at many grocery stores and Target stores. Plastic must be clean and dry with no food residue.

9. Electronic media are accepted for recycling at Hennepin County Recycling Drop-off facilities and at Best Buy, although some materials are accepted at county facilities and not at Best Buy and vice versa.

10. Cork (natural, not synthetic) is recyclable at Whole Foods through the Cork ReHarvest program, which turns cork into flooring.

11. Aseptic/gable top containers (juice boxes, tofu boxes, milk cartons, juice cartons) are recyclable in cities that use Eureka Recycling. These containers contain valuable virgin paper fiber but must be processed separately from other paper to separate the plastic coating from the paper fiber.

12. paper: windows in envelopes, spiral notebooks, staples, toilet paper rolls: all recyclable at home.

13. Chip bags, cookie packaging, granola bar wrappers, candy wrappers are recyclable through TerraCycle. You must sign up on their website (, they pay for shipping and give money to the non-profit of your choice in return for you sending packaging to them for recycling.

14. rags/linens: UsAgain will accept clean clothing that is no longer wearable to be recycled.


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