Recycling in the Twilight Zone

How naive of me to assume recycling was a straightforward and simple process! Instructions: 1) wash your glass, metal, paper, and plastics, 2) dump them in the right bin, 3) feel accomplished. Except that’s not it. Regulations at the Alexandria recycling website have some pretty odd restrictions on the glass, metal, papers, and plastic that aren’t acceptable for recycling in this county. Most notably, aluminum foil doesn’t make the cut. Now, cue the creepy theme music: Arlington VA also does not recycle aluminum foil, but Bowie, MD does, along with Kensington, MD. Statewise divide, maybe, but Alexandria recycling is taken to recycling centers in MD to be sorted and processed. Whoa! What’s the deal? Also, in Alexandria all manner of plastic bottles with necks may be recycled, whereas in Arlington only plastic types 1 and 2 (check the number inside the arrow triangle) are eligible. The restriction on plastic to necks-only seems uniform- so your hummus and spinach dip containers are no good. (Fortunately, they can be reused for Tupperware once you rinse them out, but if one likes spinach dip then one best prepare for an overabundance of Tupperware. Sure saves doing dishes though!)

This sort of regional divide must give rise to guerrilla recycling tactics: MD folks, I’ll be sneaking my foils into your recycling containers, and Arlington folk, I would be happy to get your non #1 and #2 plastic bottles (but not their caps, those aren’t allowed anywhere I saw) to where they belong. If you haven’t yet, check out your local recycling rules. If not linked here, they can usually be found somewhere near your country trash web pages. If something you think ought to be recycled isn’t covered in your county, check surrounding counties, or states. Then, get a ninja mask (recycled from Halloween?!) and dump responsibly away.

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11 Responses to “Recycling in the Twilight Zone”


  1. 1 millie October 21, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    http://www.alexrecycles.org/pdf/RRR_winners.pdf

    Alexandria does have some good advice for its residents…

  2. 2 arrrrrix October 22, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Good thing you drive a hybrid. I don’t want to rain on your clandestine, green-ninja parade, but I wonder what the environmental impact of driving a trunk-full of plastic bottles to Maryland is? (Of course, you could always work them into already-planned trips, or even load up your milk-crate, if there is in fact a way to cross the W-W bridge by bike?)

  3. 3 virescent October 22, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    I take trips to Kensington with some regularity- and my gentleman friend lives there, so I may borrow his trunk space for my foil deposits. And my officemate is from MD. Wait, how does a self-respecting UVA grad know this many Marylanders? Insidious Greater Capitol Region! Whatever, we beat their football team this weekend. Wahoowa.

  4. 4 Cameron October 22, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    That is a weird county to county rule! I almost died my second year in NYC when the city stopped recycling in an attempt to save money…..just straight up told everyone to put everything in the trash! My soul died a little. Some of my classmates hordied hundereds of bottles (of beer ofcourse) and waited the year out and then recyled them all (actually they carted them over to the store and got over $100 for the glass)! NYC now recycle just about everything so next time you Chinatown bus it up to NYC, you can bring your plastic containers and foil!

  5. 5 virescent October 23, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Sounds like a plan, actually, Cam. Me, my luggage, and my bag of recycling, off for the Big Apple! And other cliches! There’s a children’s book in this somewhere.

    Addendum to reusing plastic food containers as tupperware: it’s probaby a bad plan to microwave these things. Inadvisable and such. Not that’s it’s necessarily bad depending on the plastic of which they’re made, but in general don’t do it.

  6. 6 g October 23, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Hmmm, interesting restrictions that I didn’t know exist up until now. Which got me thinking – I can’t be the only one who didn’t know there are “types” of plastic containers (in regard to what is recyclable and what is not) nor, for that matter, that plastic bottle caps of any sort can’t be recycled.

    So if there are others as or more ignorant than me (what are the odds??), they’re chucking their finished fanta and cheerwine bottles into the bins at work whole hog, cap and all. What happens after that? Does that ruin the whole process? Surely they still pick it up and take it to the center, but at that point, what? Do they just pitch the lot if they find a cap? Do they sort through it then pitch the caps in their OWN garbage cans? Do they send them somewhere that CAN recycle them?

    I guess what it comes down to is – given that these restrictions can’t be actively enforced on the front end of the cycle with the “dumper” (for lack of a better word), are they more just notifications that, hey, this is gonna slow down the process, you jerk, or is it condemning whole loads of plastic to landfills for the sake of efficiency?

    Basically I just want to know how bad I’m supposed to feel.

  7. 7 virescent October 23, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    g, here’s a similar question and answer. I’ll call our MD facility and report back, but it seems the capped bottles get recycled for the most part. They must be used to people leaving caps on by now. But it looks like they have a moving belt with only a little time to sort all these bottles, so all the caps left on that they have to remove slow the process. So, I’d feel like a “forgot to bring my own grocery bag today” bad, then just leave the caps off (and rinse stuff out) from now on. And it looks like, unless you use the caps for adorable crafts (purses! stamps! other items!), there’s generally not much that can be done with plastic and glass bottle caps. Some are technically recyclable, but not many places actually recycle them.

  8. 8 hater October 23, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    i could make you bottle-cap earrings for xmas, would that make you happy? in fact, maybe i’ll make you a necklace too, and you’d have to wear it, or at least not throw it away, or else you’d be contributing to global warming, the death of polar bears (how could you!?!) and the imminent (many years from now) death of the Earth!! I’m thinking the necklace will be a triple-strander.

  9. 9 virescent October 24, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    hater, sound like you just signed up for a big bag of my bottle caps! make it awesome- some people on the multiwebs have made pretty neat things with them. DIY network instructions, a purse, and some different jewelry, and much more (magnets! pins! photo frames! other marginally useful things!) is google-findable. Maybe I’ll make my own magnets- but hater, you make me my necklace.

  10. 10 gnarlydorkette November 2, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Stumbled upon your blog when I did a google search on recycling for Arlington/Alexandria (I live in Arlandia– the odd spot where my address said Alexandria but I practically lives in Arlington). I am frustrated with lack of information whether number 5 and number 6 is OK to be dropped off at recycling centers??? They didn’t say on their list : “NO #5 PLASTIC!” or anything so… is this a gray area? And why?

  11. 11 virescent November 3, 2007 at 12:06 am

    #5 and #6 plastics are fine to recycle in Alexandria, but not in Arlington, it would seem- as long as the plastics are of the right shape. Bottles with necks, generally. So check the brochures I linked and if it looks ok, it will be recyclable in Alexandria- check the number if you want to take it to Arlington. They tend to make bottles of the same kinds of plastics, mostly #1s and #2s, so #5s and #6s may not be recyclable just based on being the wrong kinds of things.

    I’m not sure why they don’t mark the recycling centers better- before we got recycling bins (just 3 trash-can sized for at least 6 large apartment buildings, argh) I took everything to a facility on Eisenhower Street and the posted restrictions were much less specific than the recycling form I found- they just gave numbers, not shapes of containers. It could be because they’ve changed processors and the new ones can’t handle as many kinds of stuff, or that the people who wrote the regulations didn’t talk to each other enough, or who knows. It’s frustrating, and with the number of different sets of restrictions it might be good policy to clean out and toss in things you’re not completely sure about- the worst that could happen is that they get picked out and thrown out at the recycling facility, I’m pretty sure, which is where they’d have ended up anyway.


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