Archive for October, 2008

What’s in Your Bucket? (Part 4)

Posted in Plastics Single Stream on October 21, 2008 by MarilynB

This final wrap up returns to what many people consider the most difficult topic: plastics. Sadly too many people say, “I’ll throw it all in the bin and hope for the best.” Yet plastics are simple.

Most plastics are marked, permitting easy identification. A small triangle with a numeral inside appears on the bottom or other inconspicuous part of the container. If a 1 or 2 is inside the triangle, it is recyclable. Philadelphia only accepts plastics 1 and 2. If the container has no triangle or contains some other number inside the triangle, you should not throw it in your bin. The bigger obstacle with plastics is that manufacturers develop new types of plastic regularly. Plastic number 5 is very common now. Check your purchases to be sure you’ll be able to recycle the containers, buy less plastic, and lobby for expanded plastics recycling. Also keep in mind that some volunteer groups collect other plastics.

For consumers, single stream recycling is a hedge bet. There are ways to make your recycling more green and more economical. Avoid joining mailing lists and switch to email and electronic statements. Print on both sides of the paper to reduce the amount of paper that you use. Consider whether you need to print at all: apply for a job online or submit a resume by email instead of printing it. Maybe you can copy and paste information and email it to yourself, apply labels, and maintain a virtual filing cabinet. Buy products composed of postconsumer recycled content (which may be even more important than whether you recycle your double-sided paper.)

There’s hope that single stream recycling will greatly improve Philadelphia’s recycling rate. The city must educate our citizens. Reducing and reusing are more economical than recycling and use less energy and should be the first steps of creating a more green life. Those steps cannot exist alone and the more we recycle, the greener Philadelphia and its residents will live.

What’s in Your Bucket? (Part 3)

Posted in Cardboard, Glass, Metal, Recycling, Single stream on October 21, 2008 by MarilynB

Today we explore the easy recycling categories: metal, glass, and cardboard. Of the three, the source sof least confusion seems to be metal and glass. Jars and bottles of green, brown, and clear glass are recyclable. Acceptable metal recyclables include tin and aluminum cans, empty aerosol cans, and empty paint cans. The cans can be mixed metals (bimetal cans). As noted previously, tin and aluminum foil are trash and are not part of the recycling program.

Scrap metals are not part of curbside collection. You should call the scrap man to recycle these. Yes, the tin man still exists today and business is booming to feed China’s ravenous appetite for metals. Your old miscellaneous objects of steel, iron, and brass are valuable income for scrap metal recyclers.

Although some trucks skipped cardboard in the past, it is acceptable in Philadelphia’s single stream program. Residents must empty their cardboard boxes and flatten them. Likely the cardboard that the recycling truck failed to collect was intact and not collapsed.

What about putting your “empties” into a cardboard box? Although sorting is not necessary, you should use a sturdy container for recycling. A cardboard box is not sturdy, especially when precipitation occurs. Be kind to your recycling collectors and don’t use paper bags or cardboard boxes to hold your recycling!

What’s in Your Bucket? (Part 2)

Posted in Paper, Recycling, Single stream on October 21, 2008 by MarilynB

Mixed paper is a main source of confusion. According to the city web site, mixed paper includes “newspaper, magazines, mail, phone books, food boxes and more.” Apparently “more” includes catalogs, junk mail, advertising inserts, telephone books, food boxes (like cereal and cracker boxes), computer paper, fliers, and soda cartons.

Does this sound like any and all paper? Yes but according to Conservatree, “Most paper manufacturers say that the quality of the fiber materials they’re getting from single stream systems is problematic.” Recycling Today agrees. Treehugger notes that papers printed using an inkjet printer can ruin batches of recovered fibers. In the past, it was difficult to remove laser ink from paper without damaging the fibers although the process improved, so hopefully time will improve the recyclability of paper printed with inkjet printers. Unfortunately ink is becoming harder to remove as plastics are added to inks. The lesson: print less, which saves money, paper, trees, problematic inks, and recycling costs.

I called the Streets Departments’ customer service hotline to ask specific questions about recycling paper. Office paper is fine and there’s no need to remove the staples. Include envelopes with little plastic windows. Shredded paper qualifies (matching the types previously discussed) but you should put it in the bottom of your recycling container below heavier objects so it doesn’t blow all over the neighborhood. Pizza boxes are not okay because oil from the pizza can sink into the cardboard. Tin and aluminum foil are not paper–they are trash. Because recycling can be mixed together, there’s no need to put your newspapers in a paper grocery bag. It should be be placed into the sturdy container with your other recyclables.

So we really need to be careful to sort our paper properly. Careful sorting improves Philadelphia’s fiber content and raises the recycling rate. Keep out food-stained products. Include nearly everything else.

Weatherize Your Windows

Posted in energy efficiency, reuse, weatherization, windows on October 18, 2008 by MarilynB

Many people use shrink wrap plastic kits to weatherize their windows each fall and winter. In the spring, they rip down the plastic and throw it in the trash. With Plexiglas, you can make reusable shields to weatherize your windows. As an added bonus, this will save even more energy and keep more warmth in your home! Instructions on making your own custom storm windows with easy steps and explanations are available for free.

What’s in Your Bucket? (Part 1)

Posted in Recycling, Single stream on October 11, 2008 by MarilynB


In 1987, Philadelphia became the first large city to pass a recycling law. Although that law made recycling mandatory, 93% of Philadelphia’s waste still goes to landfills. In fact, Philadelphia’s recycling efforts have waxed and waned many times over the years, with an initial program that served only 1/3 of the city, cuts from weekly to biweekly recycling pick-up, and restrictions on acceptable materials. Sadly the low recycling rate in Philadelphia reflects the ambivalence of past city governments (Rendell and Street), confusion about materials and schedules, and lack of enforcement or incentive (although saving the planet should be a pretty major incentive).

In July of this year, Single Stream Recycling expanded city wide. Now Philadelphians can easily recycle using any sturdy bin and by mixing together all of their materials. Simple, right? No, residents remain confused about what materials are acceptable. At our own house, we celebrated single stream by tossing material into the bin but began to realize that we’d become more liberal about our toss and to wonder if we should toss so freely. During the next few posts, Msphillyorganic will sort out some of the confusion.