Ask the Experts: How Do I Recycle Cardboard?

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Q: How do I recycle cardboard? Does it need to be broken down before being placed in the recycling? Can shiny and waxed cardboard be recycled?

A: Great questions. Yes, you should break down cardboard boxes before tossing them. Flattening the boxes makes it easier for sanitation workers and recycling facilities to handle, and they take up less space (and therefore reduce cost) as they travel to the recycling center. 

However, be mindful that not all cardboard can be recycled. Cardboard that has been stained by food residue, grease, liquids, chemicals, or oil cannot be recycled. This is because grease, chemicals and oil contaminate cardboard, and can also compromise your other clean recyclables. But, if you can cut off the soiled parts, you can still recycle the unsoiled cardboard pieces.

Waxed cardboard also cannot be recycled. This type of cardboard will leave you with a waxy residue if you were to scratch it with your fingernail. Waxed cardboard is a multi-layered cardboard coated with plastic. Although it helps to keep foods fresh and prevent sogginess, waxed cardboard is an inseparable mixed material which is not recyclable.

Unlike waxed cardboard, shiny or glossy cardboard can be recycled. A good example of glossy cardboard is a typical cardboard toothpaste box. If you are having trouble determining whether you are dealing with waxed cardboard, or glossy cardboard simply give it a scratch and see if any waxy residue comes off on your fingernail. 

Now that we have a better sense of what can be recycled, let’s cover breaking down boxes.

How to Break Down Cardboard Boxes

  1. Remove and separate any extra packaging materials such as plastic foam or bubble wrap
  2. Use a box cutter, knife or scissors to cut through any tape or along the edges to flatten the box as much as possible. You do not have to worry about removing tape, staples, or adhesives. 
  3. Cut or break down until cardboard is flat and can fit into your recycling, then toss it in!

PET and rPET: From Water Bottles to Boardshorts

plastic water bottle

Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is one of the most used and versatile materials. It is known as Plastic #1 and is found in everyday items such as soft drink and water bottles and plastic food containers.

What is PET?

PET is a strong, lightweight plastic that resists leaching chemicals into food or liquid stored within it. It is also part of the polyester family and can be used for fibers and fabrics. In addition, PET is a material that can easily be recycled and is consequently the most recycled plastic.

What is rPET?

When PET is collected, sorted, and recycled, it is ground up into flakes or made into pellets. This recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or rPET, is a plastic that can be used to make similar products as PET – but requires a lot less energy. PET requires more energy to create because it requires extracting oil, transporting it, refining it and turn it into pellets. rPET just requires recycled PET to be melted down and transformed into pellets. This makes it more costs effective and gives it a lower carbon footprint.

What Can Be Done With rPET?

rPET flakes and pellets are sold and used to make a wide range of products including more plastics and fabrics. Examples include packaging containers, carpets, clothing, blankets, backpacks, tote bags, car parts, insulation, and construction materials.

rPET is lightweight, quick drying and durable – making it a top contender for the manufacture of shoes, boardshorts and winter gear. Many companies now pride themselves on finding more sustainable ways of producing their products and are relying on this recycled plastic to meet their sustainability goals.

How Great is rPET?

Sure, it is great that we can confidently recycle Plastic #1 and create new products from it. But, at the end of the day, it is still plastic. Unlike glass and aluminum, PET is not infinitely recyclable, and most products made out of rPET can’t be recycled at all.

Even as PET becomes rPET and gets spun into yarn, transformed into fiber and woven into the fabric of our favorite jacket, it still releases microplastics into our water system every time it is washed. Microplastics end up in lakes or oceans and harm the animals that inhabit them. These plastics also find their way into our bodies through the food and water we consume.

The recycling process also requires energy and releases carbon emissions that contribute to environmental degradation. So, rather than solely relying on recycling, the best way for us to be conscious of our environmental impact is to avoid using single-use plastics, and then to properly recycle them whenever possible.

From Food Scraps to Future Food

mint leafs

Have you ever bought a bunch of veggies with dreams of eating healthier and preparing your own meals, only to find you were perhaps a bit too ambitious?

Food waste is never fun — and while we can take steps to prevent it — if we do find ourselves with leftover food scraps one way we can reduce its harmful impact is by converting it into something new.

Food Scraps to Grow Your Own Food

You probably know that food scraps can be turned into compost, but did you know that some food scraps can be used to grow more food? The next time you find yourself with scraps from carrots, green onions, beets and more, you can use them to grow new food. No prior experience or exceptional effort required!

Unlike when shopping at the grocery store, when you grow your own food, you avoid unnecessary packaging and food that can contain harmful pesticides and preservatives. Your food does not have to travel anywhere to get to you, and the satisfaction of having grown your own food makes it taste even better.

Even if you live in a small apartment in the city, you can try your hand at easy windowsill gardening. There’s no need to visit the grocery store the next time you need mint leaves for tea, or cilantro for your tacos — you can use cuttings from store bought herbs to grow your favorite herbs.

Even if you don’t plan on growing all of your food, it can be fun and rewarding to not only reduce your food scraps, but turn them into something new and edible!

Did You Know that Mattresses Can Be Recycled?

An illegally dumped mattress near a open field

We spend almost a third of our lives in bed. But what happens when our mattresses and box springs reach the end of their lives?

It is estimated that over 50,000 mattresses are discarded every single day in the United States. And unfortunately, many mattresses will be sent to the landfill or illegally dumped on the side of the road. The good news is that there is a better way of discarding your mattress.

Mattresses Can Be Recycled

Your mattress is made of steel, foam, fiber and wood — and when disposed of properly, these materials can be separated and recycled individually. In fact, around 80-90% of mattresses by weight can be recycled. When mattresses are discarded on the side of the road, or otherwise sent to the landfill, these resources are lost and cannot be recovered.

Here are some easy ways you can recycle your mattress:

Get Your Old Mattress Picked Up By a Retailer
If you live in California and are having a new mattress delivered to your home, retailers are required by law to offer you the option of picking up your old mattress. Inquire with your retailer, as some services may be affected by COVID-19 and exceptions may apply.

Take it to a Participating Facility
Find a participating facility to recycle your old mattress at no cost to you.

Donate Mattresses in Like-New Condition
And lastly, if your mattress is still in excellent condition, consider donating it to a charity or give it away through Freecycle or Craigslist.

Scrap Metal Is Not Collected Curbside: Here’s Why

a large pile of scrap metal

Scrap metal, which includes copper, steel, brass and iron, can be found in items all around your home. It’s one of the most common and valuable materials to recycle, but here’s the thing, it cannot be placed in your recycling.

Aside from aluminum and tin cans, metal cannot be recycled curbside because of the danger it poses to the recycling workers and automated sorting machinery. While some magnets and sorters can screen out big items, small parts and sharp objects can be hidden and get past the initial sorters.

In order to recycle scrap metal, and earn money doing so, you can bring it to a scrapyard. You can find nearby scrap yards using the iScrap App. Before taking metal to the scrapyard, it is recommended that you separate your ferrous metal from the non-ferrous metal. Because ferrous metals contain iron, they are recycled differently than non-ferrous metals, and can be distinguished by simply holding a magnet next to the item. If it sticks to the magnet, it is a ferrous metal. If it does not, it is non-ferrous.

Ultimately, despite scrap metal not being recyclable curbside due to the risks of danger and damage, it is a great – and profitable – choice to find a local scrapyard to dispose of your metals, where they can be recycled time and time again.

Notes from the Field: Styrofoam goes into the Trash

Styrofoam may have the recycling logo on it, but Stockton does not have a Recycler to process it. All Styrofoam is considered trash. If you purchase something large, such as a TV, please break it down and put it in your trash cart (gray lid). If you have more than what can fit in your cart, make sure to put it in a trash bag and place it next to your trash cart with an extra service sticker on the bag. Do not overfill your cart.

 

Do not put Styrofoam in the yellow or green lidded bin. Please put it in the bin with a gray lid. 

 

 

Reuse: From Used Pallets to DIY Projects

stack of wood pallets

Wood pallets — yes, the ones you can often find curbside or on online marketplaces for free — are trending as a furniture-building material. This is because pallets are cheap, accessible and an eco-friendly option for DIY projects.

Why Wood Pallets?

There are various environmental benefits to reusing and recycling wood pallets beyond just preventing them from entering our waste stream.

  1. Wood is one of the most renewable building materials we have — growing back quicker and requiring a lot less energy, carbon and water to extract than other raw materials.
  2. Reusing wood pallets as building materials can lower our consumption of less sustainable options. For example, every cubic meter of wood used for building materials releases 1.1 fewer tons of carbon dioxide compared to synthetic materials.
  3. It is easy to keep recycling the wood for mulch, paper or more pallets if parts have broken off, making them more eco-friendly than plastic pallets.

Choose A Project

There are so many creative pallet projects out there — ranging from porch swings and lounge chairs to shelves, bed bases, nightstands and whole accent walls! Instructables, YouTube and The Spruce all have great ideas to get you started on your own pallet project.

Find Used Pallets

Because pallets are used for shipping all sorts of goods, they are generally easy to find. There are about two billion pallets in use across the United States, with half a billion more pallets made every year. To find free pallets for your DIY projects, you can use Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Freecycle or even ask local businesses or pallet recyclers.

Check that Pallets are Safe

Not all pallets are the same, however, and you may be bringing toxins into your home if you do not check the stamps or labels to learn what they were used for and how they were treated. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid any pallets that are stained or give off an odor. Beware of pallets with “MB” stamped next to the IPPC logo — this means it was treated with methyl bromide, a chemical that is harmful to humans. Learn more about pallet labels here.

Now that you know where to find pallets and how to pick out safe ones, it’s time to get to the exciting part — starting your project! Be sure to follow all manufacturer safety guidelines while using tools, including wearing proper personal protective equipment.

Top Troublemakers: Plastic Foam

eps clamshell takeout containers and eps ice chest,

Have you ever thrown egg cartons, meat trays or takeout containers made of white foam into the recycling bin? Seems like the right thing to do considering they have the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom, right?

Unfortunately, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam – often mistakenly referred to as “Styrofoam,” a trademarked name of a unique type of polystyrene – is not accepted in your curbside recycling. Here is why.

There are two main problems with recycling EPS:

  1. Contamination
    EPS is often contaminated with food debris or liquid and is difficult to sanitize. Food contaminants can cause entire loads of recyclables to be rejected and sent to the landfill instead.
  2. Density
    Expanded polystyrene is approximately 5 percent plastic and 95 percent air. This means it is extremely lightweight and prone to flying away when collected from bins without a garbage bag. It also takes up a lot of room per unit of weight and is not cost-effective to transport.

Alternative Recycling Programs for EPS:

Reduce EPS:

  • Use your own reusable mugs or food containers and be conscious of vendors and restaurants that use expanded polystyrene foam.
  • Opt for wadded paper, shredded paper or newspaper instead of “packing peanuts” to protect fragile packages.

Reuse EPS:

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Clothes on hangers in store front window

Score! You just found a top for 4 bucks — but is that its true cost? The fashion industry is betting on you not to ask that question.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion refers to clothing produced rapidly to spur and keep up with ever-changing trends, and accordingly, it is priced to be easily consumable, and designed use for a short period and then disposed of.

The fashion industry has come under fire recently because of production practices that not only encourage excessive consumption, but also make clothing cheap at the expense of people and the environment.

Human Costs

Most of the clothing is produced outside of the United States, in countries where companies can profit off of more lenient laws and regulations. Factory workers can be deprived of living wages and subjected to harsh, unsafe working conditions.

Environmental Costs

Because of fast fashion’s endless cycles of production, natural resources are continually depleted to keep up with the increased demand for more clothing.

In a single year the fashion industry can use enough water to fill up 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. Due to the toxic dyes used in production processes, the fashion industry is also one of the leading polluters of the world’s waterways.

In addition, the majority of fast fashion clothes are made from synthetic fabrics that release tiny pieces of plastic with every wash and are estimated to be responsible for more than a third of microplastics in the ocean.

And at the end of their lifecycle, textiles, even if donated, can find their way to the landfill, to the tune of around 11 million tons per year in the United States.

Fashion Forward without Fast Fashion

When thinking about how to minimize our consumer impact, the most important thing we can do is to buy only what we need and then use it for as long as possible.

You can choose to invest in clothing made from natural fabrics, or from companies that use more sustainable practices and provide workers fair wages and safe working conditions. You also can start where you already are.

When your jeans get a tear, consider getting them repaired, or try repurposing them into something new. If you’re in need of new clothing try finding gently-used items online or at a thrift shop.

Ultimately, the price of cheap clothing is not reflective of its true cost, and in moving towards a more sustainable wardrobe, the key is to buy that which is truly needed and can last.