We all know how important recycling is, but it’s so confusing sometimes. It’s hard to know exactly what can go in the blue mixed-recycling bin or the gray glass recycling bin (wait, there are separate bins?). And what in the world do you do with things that should be recycled, like electronics, but can’t be recycled at the curb?
The Brown Compost Bin
First up, let’s talk about that brown compost bin that’s picked up weekly. If you can compost something, you should. Food scraps and yard waste add a lot of unnecessary material to the landfill. This can lead to unwanted stench around the house, but more importantly, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and germs.
When you compost, the scraps can go to fertilizing yards and gardens instead of heading to landfills. Composting returns most of the nutrients back to the soil, prevents soil erosion, and has other environmental benefits, as well.
That said, if you ever wanted to fertilize the soil in your backyard, you can always take steps to compost in your backyard. But the city’s brown bin also takes away items that you may not want to compost in your backyard.
Composting is available year-round except for a few weeks (around 6 weeks) during the winter, when there is extremely low demand for composting. Suspending the service also saves city resources and helps the air, which often isn’t great around here during the winter.
The materials are processed at a local compost facility, where it’s turned into wood chips, mulch, and compost, which you can purchase at the Salt Lake Valley Landfill at 6030 W. California Ave. Compost is $45 per 3 cubic-yard scoop.
You can compost many types of food and yard waste, including leaves, lawn clippings, tree branches, weeds, fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags (as long as they do not have staples in them).
Don’t compost any packaging, even if it says that it’s biodegradable/compostable (the facility doesn’t currently have the ability to process it), as well as other materials like paper, dairy, meat, or dirt and animal waste.
See Salt Lake City’s Complete Composting guidelines here.
The Blue Mixed-Recycling Bin
This recycling bin is awesome because it allows you to mix much of your recycling together in one place. But the City of Salt Lake asks that you not engage in “wishful recycling,” or in other words, thinking that you’re doing good by throwing something in the bin that you’re not sure can be recycled. It might feel good to toss it in there instead of the trash, but items that can’t be recycled contaminate the recycling stream and can damage equipment at the recycling facility – raising the cost of recycling because they have to recoup the cost of damage.
So, the most important thing to remember when you’re recycling is to make sure that the thing you’re putting in your bin can actually be recycled.
The city currently recycles about 42% of the waste collected from its residents, and the city’s goal is 50%.
Paper: You can recycle newspaper and newspaper inserts, shoe boxes, cereal boxes, cardboard boxes, paper tubes, magazines, and phone books. You should also recycle most paper, including junk mail, office paper, envelopes. Do not recycle napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, or paper plates. Do not recycle shredded paper.
Plastic: You should recycle plastic containers and plastic-coated cartons, but not aseptic cartons or food wrappers and packaging. You should also refrain from recycling plastic bags because they can jam recycling equipment and cause the entire facility to come to a halt. Instead, take them to your nearest grocery store for recycling.
Metal: You can recycle steel food cans, aluminum cans, and empty aerosol cans.
See Salt Lake City’s complete list of mixed-recycling bin guidelines here.
The Gray Recycling Bin
Glass is actually recycled separately in Salt Lake City, so don’t just throw it into your blue can. You can sign up for curbside glass recycling online, and it just adds a $8.50 monthly fee to your trash bill. You’ll be given a gray 35-gallon can just for glass.
All colors of glass bottles and jars are accepted, and you don’t have to separate them. You should, however, remove any lids or corks from the glass.
Broken bottles and jars are also OK to recycle but do not put ceramics, Pyrex, light bulbs, fish tanks, mirrors, windows, plates, or glasses, into the gray bin. The equipment at recycling facilities are not made to handle those materials.
See Salt Lake City’s complete list of glass recycling guidelines here.
There are quite a few places around us that accept used motor oil from both DIY-ers and from farmers. Here’s a complete list of places in our area where you can drop off motor oil for proper recycling.
You likely have a bunch of other items that you would like to recycle but that the city can’t take care of for you. If so, you’re in luck. There are many places in the city that can recycle these items for you.
Recycle Solutions is committed to being environmentally responsible when it comes to dealing with e-waste. They try to get a second life out of every item they can, since so much energy went into creating those items in the first place. They’re also committed to safely disposing of your data.
It’s important to recycle electronics properly because they often contain lead, mercury cadmium, and flame retardants that are toxic to the environment.
Here’s a complete list of items accepted by Recycle Solutions—note that a few items, like TVs or monitors, have a $40 processing fee. Most items, however, are accepted for free. These include batteries, computers, laptops, DVD players and VCRs, printers, scanners, ink and toner cartridges, and more.
Appliances and Building Materials
Habitat for Humanity: If you have appliances, building materials, and furniture that are still usable, consider taking them to the Habitat for Humanity here in Salt Lake City.
They accept these items and either sell them at their ReStore locations or use them in homes they build for those in need. They even have a pickup service that you can call to schedule. It can’t get any easier than that!
Recycle Utah: You can also take usable appliances and building supplies to Recycle Utah, which, similar to Habitat for Humanity ReStore, sells items to those working on home projects at a big discount.
They’ll take wood, gutters, doors, windows, block, brick, stone, molding, fixtures, particle board, drywall, plumbing supplies, lighting supplies, and more.
If you’re about to do a remodel and want to minimize waste from the project, they’ll do a free pre-demolition/remodeling consultation to help you see what can be reused and recycled.
Craft and School Supplies
The Clever Octopus is an unusual place. It’s a nonprofit that fosters environmental awareness through art, science, technology, engineering, and math.
They have a center that’s a thrift store for arts and crafts supplies (it’s a great place to get very discounted supplies for a project). They also have a mobile outreach vehicle, which is basically a mobile classroom staffed by the center’s artists. They host classes all over the area for a huge variety of groups and people.
The Clever Octopus accepts art supplies, craft supplies, fabric and notions, tools and construction items, jewelry, vintage items, and many other items from your recycling bin.
The list of what they accept is always changing, so check that out here.
If you have other things you’d like to see if you can recycle, the City of Salt Lake has this great resource where you can figure out if there are any local places that can take them off your hands so you don’t have to resort to the landfill.
I hope this helps you have a better grasp on how to recycle in our city so we can do a better job of helping the environment. Truly, every little bit helps!
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