Bob Pickard, owner of High Country Health Foods and Cafe, admires the Got Your Bags? logo painted by the Milazzo family as a reminder to customers to bring their own bags.
Of all the materials that can be recycled in Mariposa County, plastic is by far the most confusing for the consumer. This is primarily because there are so many different kinds, but also because containers and products that are stamped with the chasing arrows recycling symbol are not necessarily recyclable if you don’t live in a large metropolitan area.
Maybe it is this confusion that has led some people to throw up their hands in frustration and throw away all their plastics, even the ones that can be recycled. Whatever the reason, the humongous heaps of noncompostable “overs” that go through the compost facility and end up in the landfill are filled with plastic shopping bags, water bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles and other plastic containers that could have had a second life if they had been put in a recycling bin instead of a trash can.
If you are in a quandary about which plastics you can and can’t recycle and which bin to put them in at the Recycling Center, here are a few guidelines:
For the purpose of recycling, plastics can generally be divided into four categories: CRVs (beverage bottles that you can turn in for cash, both #1 and #2 plastic); #1 PET or PETE plastic (generally, but not always clear); #2 HDPE plastic (generally opaque, often colored); and, #3-7 plastic (many yogurt containers, margarine tubs, vitamin bottles, etc.) Look for the identifying number inside the chasing arrows recycling symbol, usually imprinted on the bottom of the container.
Just because a container has a number on the bottom does not mean it can be recycled in Mariposa. You will often find a #6 on Styrofoam packaging, for instance. We do not have a vendor for Styrofoam and are unable to recycle it, so it must go in the trash.
We do not accept non-food grade plastic, whether or not there is a number on the bottom. The FDA has strict guidelines about the types of recycled plastic that can be used for food containers. That is why we cannot accept motor oil containers, toys, tarps, berry baskets, flower pots and flats, and the like. However, personal care product containers such as shampoo and liquid soap bottles, and household product containers, such as laundry detergent and dish soap bottles, are fine. If you are unsure, ask the recycling attendant.
Containers should be rinsed. (Please, no jars half full of unidentifiable chartreuse goo with fingers of grey fuzz reaching out the top. The reason for this is that recyclables often have to be stored for long periods of time and, as unappealing as that goo may be to the human race, to the rat race it’s better than a hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream.)
Now that you know the basics, there are different ways to go about separating your rinsed plastic containers. You can throw them all into one box, bag or barrel for sorting later, or, if you have space, you can have a separate box, bag, or barrel for each type: CRVs (if you want the cash), #1, #2 and #3-7.**
“What numbers?” you may be asking, especially if you are not blessed with 20/20 vision. You’re right—those numbers that are supposed to make it simple to recycle are often hard to read and, right again, it does seem as though there should be a way to make it easier for people who want to do the right thing. Most people probably have better things to do than call to complain about illegible recycling numbers, but I bet if everyone who has ever suffered a migraine from squinting to see whether it’s a 2 or a 7 on the bottom of that squeezable mustard jar called the manufacturer responsible, changes would be made.
Anyway, if you put all your plastics into one collection container, please sort them by type before taking them to the Recycling Center. This is important! While the recycling attendant is more than happy to answer questions, part of her job is to keep traffic flowing smoothly through the area, as well as to keep customers safe and happy. This is impossible to do if a customer is parked for an hour-and-a-half at the front of the line while attempting to read every number on the bottom of 16 trash bags full of bottles, jars, jugs and tubs and get them into the appropriate bin.
At the Recycling Center you simply put your #1 plastics into the green bin with the #1 plastic sign, the #2 plastics in the bin with the #2 plastic sign and so on. It’s OK to leave the lids on. Of course, as with everything in life, there are exceptions, one being that black microwave containers must be placed in the #3-7 bin no matter what the number on the bottom.
If you used plastic bags to transport your materials, you can take them home and reuse them. Plastic bags cannot be recycled at the Recycling Center, even though they may have a recycling symbol on them; however, clean plastic shopping bags can be deposited in the bag recycling bins that major supermarkets, department stores and pharmacies are required to provide. (Click here for more information.)
Locally you can find them at the entrance outside Pioneer Market and inside Rite Aid near the shopping carts. Pioneer Market also accepts clean, dry bread and produce bags, dry cleaner bags, and any other #2 or #4 bags, as well as clean plastic wraps from paper towels, bathroom tissue, napkins, etc., furniture wrap, electronic wrap, zip lock bags, cereal box liners, newspaper bags, bubble wrap, shrink wrap, shipping air cushions (release air first), etc., as do many large supermarket and department store chains in the Valley.
What to do with the plastic that cannot be recycled? In our society, it is virtually impossible to get through a day without throwing out something made of the stuff—a ballpoint pen, candy wrapper, Styrofoam packing materials, old videos, broken toys—you name it. If the item is in good condition, you can donate it to a local thrift store. Here are some other ideas:
Buy used whenever possible. This eliminates the packaging that comes with a new product, as well as the plastic used to make the new product.
Ask the nursery where you bought your plants if they will take back pots and flats. Many do, including Lowes in Fresno.
Buy eggs packed in cardboard cartons rather than Styrofoam.
Take Styrofoam peanuts and intact plastic bubble wrap (not the stuff you let the kids stomp on at your son’s birthday party) to Mariposa Shipping Company for reuse.
Use reusable shopping bags made from recycled materials. ( Those in need of a little reminder to take their bags into the store with them when they shop can get a “Got Your Bags” window cling for their car at the recycling display at the Mariposa Library.)
Rinse and reuse produce bags. Keep them with your reusable shopping bags. Or use them to pack lunches instead of buying sandwich bags. After they have worn out, rinse and put them in a bag recycling bin (see above).
Buy toys, lumber, garden tools, outdoor furniture, clothing, pens and other products made from recycled plastic.
Support a local “green” artist--shop at our Recycled Craft Fair Oct. 13 in the Mariposa Arts Park
Reuse plastic food containers for food storage, to start seeds or to hold nails, screws, buttons, paper clips, rubber bands, twist ties, crayons, safety pins, hair ribbons and all the other little things lying around the house that need a home.
Recycle old electronics as well as printer cartridges. (I’ll discuss e-waste in an upcoming column.)
Make toys and other useful items out of plastic trash. Need ideas? These are some of my favorite websites: family fun; craftbits; allfreecrafts; pinterest
If you make something from recycled plastic you’d like to share, send me a photo and I’ll put it on our website.
Questions or comments? Send me an email.
*Contrary to any rumors you may have heard, all of the recyclables we collect are recycled unless someone has thrown trash or other unacceptable materials into the bin and contaminated the load. When that happens, the load becomes worthless to the recycler and must be discarded.
** If you really have an issue with sorting, you can put all of your containers in the #3-7 bin. We’d rather you do that than not recycle plastic at all. However, the Solid Waste & Recycling Division gets paid for the #1 and #2 plastic but gets little or nothing for the #3-7.
Why should you care how much money the Division is paid if the main purpose of recycling is to divert waste from the landfill? Because the landfill/recycling center is an enterprise account, meaning that it receives no money from the County General Fund, but instead relies solely on disposal fees, recycling income and a few small state grants to operate. The more income generated through recycling, the more services it can provide and the more efficiently it can operate.