I always knew that if I moved back to Arizona, I would have my work cut out for me. One of the reasons I was away for so long was the fact that the way in which I choose to live my life was so common place in the Pacific Northwest. The things that I had been working so hard to do and maintain in Tucson such as recycling more items than putting things in the garbage, eating organic foods, carrying my own shopping bags, avoiding Styrofoam whenever possible and even composting are normal everyday things for a Portlander. In fact, Styrofoam doesn’t really even exist in the confines of the city of Portland – it along with plastic bags were banned years ago. Yet in Tucson, it is everywhere. There is no escaping it’s bright white brilliance if you want to take home leftovers or order take out. Or if you want to have a cup to drink out of at the Ward 6 building for a Sustainable Tucson meeting.
This is what Sherri Ludlam from City of Tucson Recycling Program was left to drink out of when she came to speak to our group the week before Thanksgiving, I had seen her only last month in the very same room for a meeting held by Ward 6, our Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik and the City of Tucson Recycling. In attendance then was about a dozen neighbors and about another dozen people from either the city programs for recycling or some of the contractors who actually run the facility here in Tucson. So, in all about half the amount of people who attended the Sustainable Tucson meeting. I found myself less frustrated during the second meeting than the first. Partly because I knew I was among friends and like-minded individuals. Partly because I believe that Sherry knew after the first meeting that taking a hard line and sounding like we were in a budget meeting wasn’t going to go over as well.
While I appreciate that the city budget for recycling has been blown to smithereens by China deciding that they don’t want to pay for our trash any more – what has happened is that we now have to admit that we were really just sending them trash. Yes, it is supposed to be recycling but you know, we are dirty, filthy Americans. Yes, that is right, I am calling us all out. Even those of us who feel that we do our best. Sometimes those who do their best are actually the worst. Meaning that by not fully educating ourselves on what is and isn’t recyclable there is a lot of non-recyclables being put in the bins that should never have been there in the first place. I know the intentions are good, but things change and what we can recycle changes over time. So now is the best time to get re-educated.I am the first to admit that the info put out by the city is confusing. They say that we can recycle plastic, cardboard, paper, and glass. They show us pretty pictures on a nice blue background but there is much that they actually don’t say that would be helpful. When asked why they don’t give out more specific info they say they don’t want to complicate things. That if it is too much info people won’t read it. Well, I think we need to read it! The only way in which we will be able to fulfill our part in the aspects of proper recycling is to fully understand what is and isn’t good. And by that I don’t mean what is and isn’t good for their bottom line. I mean for the planet and for our future.
So, to begin with here are the basics:
Yes – plastics, bottles and containers with numbers 1-7. What they really want for the city is 1&2 but they will take 1-7. Any bottles such as gallon milk jugs, water, soda, etc. should be rinsed – preferably air dried, and the cap put back on before tossing in the bin. This goes for things such as laundry soap bottles too. Please don’t crush them either.Yes – corrugated cardboard – any of those Amazon or shipping boxes. Don’t worry about the tape unless it covers more than 50% of the box. Just remember to break them down and no need to cut them up in pieces. The bigger the better to fit through the machinery at the sorting facility.Yes – paperboard, molded fiberboard - cereal boxes, processed food boxes, egg cartons (not Styrofoam), etc. Again, break them down if you can.Yes – ½ gallon milk containers coated in wax, containers from broth, soups, drink boxes that are foil lined.Yes – ridged plastics such as buckets and storage containers. Even igloo coolers. There are some things in this category that will be dismissed at the sorting facility but trying to figure out just which ones they won’t take is too hard. If in question they ask that you trash it rather than send I to them. You can always call to get a more definitive answer for larger items.Yes- paper – office paper, mailers, brochures, etc. They ask if it is small that you don’t recycle it. It just slips through the rollers at the sorting center. You can always put small slips in an envelope. Just don’t over stuff it or they will pull it off the line wondering what might be in it.Yes- periodicals, phone books, etc. They are easy to sort and if they haven’t been ripped apart, they should be easy to recycle.Yes – newspapers, paper bags – don’t bundle them up, leave them loose so that they can be separated for processing. It used to be a thing for us to bundle the newsprint now they want it to be free moving to make it easier to sort and process.Yes – glass – bottles, jars, etc. Rinsed and air dried, no lids.Yes – aluminum cans from foods– rinse, leave labels on. Also, if you can don’t fully remove the lids. When using a can opener try to open it most of way but not fully so that the lid is still attached. The small, loose metal lids get lost at the sorting facility.Yes – soda cans – rinse, air dry. Please don’t crush it makes it harder for them to be sorted as they become smaller.
No – frozen food boxes! That’s right folks, you thought they were just a box but no, they are paperboard mixed with plastic so that when they are exposed to temperature fluctuations and wetness the boxes won’t collapse.No – plastic lids for containers such as yogurt and sour cream. Those lids are actually made of lower grade plastics than the containers themselves. They are also small and less likely to stay on through transport than tops that screw on. Once loose they will fall through the rollers at the sorting facility or gunk them up and cause shutdowns.No – plastic bags – absolutely not! They are the bane of recycling centers across the nation. If you must take them from the shops, please return them to a participating shop that will recycle them for you. They go to a completely different type of facility to be processed.No – plastic films that cover foods such as the lift off ones on yogurt containers. Those aren’t even recyclable at the shops.No – pizza boxes – no, just no! Anything that has come into contact with food or grease is a no go. Worst contamination you can do.No – bakery boxes, takeout boxes – these have also come into contact with food and grease. If there is a single spot on it it is contaminated. Please put these in the trash not the recycling bin.No – loose shredded paper. This must be put into a clear plastic bag to be pulled off the line and processed by hand. The paper is too small to go through the sorters.No – Styrofoam. The city has no way to recycle this and you will have to look for an alternative facility.No – trash – this includes anything you know for sure won’t ever have another use. Things like used diapers, kitty litter, doggy doo, broken stuff. Furniture, strollers, etc.No – compostable containers. These may be from lettuce or other produce/foods. These are not made of plastics that are recyclable. They are made to break down in the landfill.
What to take to your local shop for recycling:Plastic bags, deflated air pillows from shipping, Tyvek packaging, plastic shipping envelopes, etc. If the plastic had foods in it or has become dirty or sticky, please at least rinse and dry if not clean before recycling. You can contaminate a whole bin while the shop waits for it to be full enough to send off for processing.
I am sure that there is more. You may have even thought of something while reading this. Feel free to reach out and ask questions. I will answer them if I can.Also remember that things change. Do what you can to keep up to date with your local programs - here in Tucson, the surrounding areas, Arizona or your personal neck of the woods. Each city has its own programs and not everywhere in the state will be run the same. Our future is in your hands, so we are counting on one another to use those hands to lift the lid on the right bin.
Also, please remember that plastics, no matter what type, have a shelf life. Each time a plastic is recycled it loses more life and eventually it will become something that will only be good to go into the landfill. Even those plastic bags and jugs that get turned into clothing – fleece, will eventually get thrown away. The more conscious we are about that we buy or bring home the more we can keep out of the landfills and help our Mother Earth stay healthy and beautiful.
Sharia Des Jardins
Sharia has been doing eco/green coaching professionally for the last 4 years. She managed an eco-friendly home and kitchen store in Portland for many years. While running the T-Rex Museum in Tucson - sustainability, ecology and recycling were part of every group tour for the 6 years she was there. She made sure that every staff member ended their tours with the inevitability of human extinction if we continue in the manner of which we are accustomed to treating the planet. She has been educating friends and family for the last 20 years about what they can do. Sharia is also currently affiliated with Jen’s Organic Home and Baby here in Tucson since her return to the city in April 2018 after over a decade of living in the Pacific Northwest. Recently she joined the Core Team of Sustainable Tucson a local non-profit that offers members educational gatherings on a monthly basis.