We've got good news, and we've got bad news.
The good news is that Americans are doing a better job recycling, at least when it comes to one particular type of materials: plastics.
According to a recently released report on non-bottle plastic recycling rates for 2009 by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), "A minimum of 479 million pounds of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastic was recovered in 2009."
This figure represents an increase of 33 percent over 2008, which is a significant jump. Huzzah!
Now, the bad news: You can't get complacent. This report only covers one aspect of the recycling spectrum, and there's still a great deal more that could be done to boost overall rates around the country.
So, what's a well-meaning recycler to do? Here are our top five tips to make sure you're a pro in no time flat.
1. Revisit Local Rules
The past few years have been tough on the recycling industry, and some local communities saw changes in the way they recycle. "We're starting to see more and more single-stream recycling programs across the country," says Melissa Quillard, communications manager for Waste Management of Arizona.
So, to make sure you're taking care of the "low hanging fruit" in this improvement scenario, take a look at how your community works and make sure you're still up to speed. Try visiting your town or city website for information on what is being collected. This may seem rather simple, but even Earth911 staffers have been known to mess up their recycling - and we're the experts here.
The point: Even know-it-alls like us get things wrong, so be sure to double-check your own practices at home.
2. Know Your Codes
Some types of materials, like plastic, take a little extra examination before you toss them into the bin. As we learned from the epic example of recycling pizza boxes, contamination in the recycling stream is a big problem.
If your community collects plastics with rules that use wording such as "all containers and tubs," then you may have lucked out on this tip. But, if you use a recycling program that has guides that read closer to "#1 and #2 plastic, no bags or film," you'll probably have to keep an eye out. This holds especially true with children (or roommates!), who might not know how to tell the difference.
The point: It's not just enough to know the rules - you've got to get down to the nitty gritty.
3. Get Off the Curb
You've probably mastered your curbside pickup collection, but what about the rest of the waste your home generates? No doubt there are items like electronics, wine corks, plastic containers, CDs, candy wrappers and the like that could actually be recycled if you just did a bit of homework.
The ACC report notes that "There is a growing trend of manufacturing companies creating community collection programs for their own products or to amass a specific resin that isn’t contaminated by the curbside stream." You can see examples of programs like these with Preserve's Gimme5 collection.
Try a search on Earth911 for something unusual (CFLs, construction debris, Tyvek envelopes, etc.), and see what's available either in your area or through a mail-back program.
The point: Pros take a look at their waste and find new ways to recycle it outside the home.