Recycling changed — and we need to change the way we recycle

Sunday , March 11, 2018 - 4:30 AM1 comment


We need to get this right.

Recycling extends the life of landfills. It conserves timber, water and oil. It creates American jobs.

But in Northern Utah, too many of us treat our garbage as recycling, which defeats the whole point.

  • RELATED: “Plastic bags, garbage still trashing Weber County's recycling program”

We need to understand the new rules of recycling.

Recycling changed when China, the biggest consumer of used American plastics, stopped indiscriminately accepting our recyclables because they’re too dirty. China now only accepts clean recyclables.

That message failed to reach consumers, however. Especially in Northern Utah.

Recycled Earth processes all municipal recycling for Weber County. In late February, Ogden asked the company to audit a single truckload of collections from the city’s recycling carts. Nearly half of it was trash — 45.5 percent, according to Recycled Earth.

If that ratio holds true throughout Weber County, we’re not really recycling; we’re just putting out blue garbage bins.

Recycling now requires us to apply three simple rules:

1: Stop putting plastic bags in your recycling bins.

Plastic bags and grocery sacks jam recycling machinery, slowing down the workflow and increasing costs. Yet people continue to put their recyclables in plastic bags, said Amy Rawson, owner of Recycled Earth.

“People don’t understand when they throw recyclables in a plastic bag, it’s not necessarily going to get ripped open,” Rawson told Leia Larsen, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner. “Maybe it’s household trash. Maybe it’s food waste. I don’t want to break it open and find out.”

As a result, those plastic bags you’ve lovingly filled with newsprint and cardboard go directly to the landfill.

2: When in doubt, throw it out.

China only accepts plastics labeled No. 1 or No. 2. Anything stamped 3-7 is trash.

Admittedly, those little numbers can be hard to read. So if you’re not sure it’s recyclable, throw it out.

In Washington Terrace, Mayor Mark Allen is telling people just to toss all their plastics in the garbage because it’s simpler than trying to identify them by number. Ultimately, it’s your call. But recyclers use a mantra, Rawson said — when in doubt, throw it out.

3: Clean up your act.

Food can’t be recycled. If you want to compost it in your backyard, that’s up to you. But it doesn’t go in the recycling.

Neither does yard waste, dirty diapers, glass, clothing or stained, wet cardboard.

  • RELATED: “Global shifts in recycling market creating mess for Northern Utah”

Cardboard is valuable. If it’s clean and dry, recycle it.

Glass can be recycled too. It just needs to be separated from other recyclables.

But the minute you lob anything but clean paper, plastic, cardboard and metal into your recycling bin, you’ve just created another load of garbage.

We’ve created a flowchart to help you sort your trash and recyclables. You can find it on

Communities in Northern Utah started recycling because it’s good for the environment. That’s still true.

Now it’s up to us to begin recycling effectively.

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