Sunday, March 31, 2019

Recycling in My Kitchen

"While there remains a viable market in the United States for scrap like soda bottles and cardboard, it is not large enough to soak up all of the plastics and paper that Americans try to recycle. The recycling companies say they cannot depend on selling used plastic and paper at prices that cover their processing costs, so they are asking municipalities to pay significantly more for their recycling services. Some companies are also charging customers additional 'contamination' fees for recycled material that is mixed in with trash." -- NY Times, "As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling," March 16, 2019.
In my kitchen: lots of containers and packaging that need recycling. Or at least I think they do. The rules for recycling have been changing rapidly. A few years ago, most containers, clean cardboard, and lots of other things were welcomed into the recycling center where they were sorted and sent to manufacturers who paid at least some money. Our city, Ann Arbor, made money out of trash.

As I said in a recent blog post about the history of recycling, expecting too much from recycling was not a sustainable habit for Ann Arbor citizens or anyone throughout the country to have acquired, and many practical recycling problems now plague us. Like many people, I'm worried about the vast quantities of plastic polluting our waterways and endangering fish and wildlife, and about the vast quantities of all kinds of trash piling up in our landfills.

My pantry shelves are full of containers. My understanding: the metal and glass can all be recycled, though glass is
becoming less desirable. The soup packages are recyclable now, but may become more problematic.

Here's one of the mistakes I have learned: you can't recycle the plastic that
wraps the cardboard that contains the Coke cans. It's great that Michigan
requires a 10-cent deposit on cans, and so they are really recycled. But the
rest is up to us: the plastic is trash, not recycling!
How do we buy vegetables? Here's a recent picture of the offerings at Argus Farm Stop, a consignment store where local
farmers bring their produce. In March, there's not a lot of soft fruit, but I did find hoop-house lettuce, carrots and other
root vegetables that I think were saved from last season, and a few other things. You could use your own bags or use
paper or plastic bags that Argus provides. Sadly, plastic bags are one of the most serious problems for recycle centers.
Trader Joe's also offers lots of unpackaged fruit and vegetables, obviously
not local. Some like these are offered unwrapped, others in plastic boxes.
At Costco, there's a lot of packaging that has to be recycled. These light-
weight plastic boxes have a number 1 in the little triangle, so they are
recyclable in Ann Arbor. Maybe better than plastic bags?
Here in my kitchen: plastics marked with the little triangle with a "2" in it.
All bottles and tubs in this plastic are accepted for city recycling. No lids.
Also in my kitchen: plastics with the number 1. "The City of Ann Arbor accepts
all #1 bottle and tub-shaped containers in the curbside recycling program."
My worry: am I putting the wrong things in the bin? Juice cartons are still allowed. My junk mail is ok.
But the big question: can we keep on doing things the same way? Will a lot of this have to go to landfill?
It's hard to avoid what they call "aspirational recycling" -- that is, putting not-recyclable items in the bin with the good stuff. Greasy pizza boxes or take-out containers, any and all plastic bags, disposable beverage cups and their lids, K-cups from pod coffee makers, and the wrong kinds of plastic packaging are the worst offenders. A few mistakes by consumers, well-meaning or not,  can make large amounts of recycling unacceptable. Many cities are being priced out of the market for selling recyclables because of too many mistakes in people's kitchens as well as because as of last January, China has ceased to accept the shiploads of poorly sorted American recycling.
Am I irresponsible for buying these madeleines that are in a box and each
individually packaged? I like them this way because they don't get stale.
"About 25 percent of what ends up in the blue bins is contaminated, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association. For decades, we’ve been throwing just about whatever we wanted—wire hangers and pizza boxes and ketchup bottles and yogurt containers—into the bin and sending it to China, where low-paid workers sorted through it and cleaned it up. That’s no longer an option. And in the United States, at least, it rarely makes sense to employ people to sort through our recycling so that it can be made into new material, because virgin plastics and paper are still cheaper in comparison." -- The Atlantic, "Is This the End of Recycling?" March 5, 2019.
Winter tomatoes are tasteless, but  the best are Campari tomatoes grown in
hoop houses in Canada. The box definitely protects the fragile fruit.
It's a number 1, but what are the consequences for the environment?
Recyclable? Ann Arbor recycling says yes to numbers 4-7
tubs and containers. Other programs may not accept them.

Much of the US population drinks K-Cup coffee, and most K Cups aren't recyclable. At least I do right in this department.
These are locally roasted beans, packaged in a paper bag, and made into coffee without any filters or waste other
than the coffee grounds. Even K Cups that are said to be recyclable are often too small for the equipment and
cause problems at recycling plants. Something like 40% of coffee drinkers now use K-Cup machines.
Many other environmental issues have become pressing in recent years. Pollution comes from cars, planes, farm animals, careless trash disposal, factory effluent, smoke, and many other sources. I have tried to limit my discussion here to just one small corner of the problem, but a corner where I can actually do something no matter how small.

Every month, bloggers on several continents share what's in their kitchens by posting at Sherry's "In My Kitchen" ( I'm sharing this post with them, and I hope some of them will tell us about recycling issues in their environments.


eileeninmd said...


Great information on recycling. My hubby is good at what not to recycle and what is good. I much prefer the roasted coffee beans. Happy Sunday, enjoy your day and new week ahead. PS, thanks for visiting my blog.

Jeanie said...

It's a complicated mess, from town to town -- if you are lucky enough to have recycling that picks things up. I would do better if I did.

Sherry's Pickings said...

hi Mae
this is a huge global problem isn't it? and so very worrying. We have recycling here of course. We ARE allowed to chuck our pizza boxes in the recycling here! Our supermarkets have separate bins where you can bring in all the soft plastics that our council bins won't take- like bread wrappers etc. But who really knows where they end up? I have read that councils in Victoria (a southern state) just pile it all up in warehouses. If i do have a plastic bag, i use it several times if possible. i am going to email our local supermarket about their hideous use of plastic trays and so on for fruit and veg. ridiculous! who needs it? I have given up on one brand of vinegar cos they changed to plastic from glass! i wrote them and they did not bother to give me an answer so i will email again to tell them i won't ever buy their product again! if only the manufacturers would join in the movement.....thanks for bringing up this topic. it is a very important one. cheers sherry

Iris Flavia said...

It is crazy how, if you're not rich, hardly can avoid plastic.
You can wash veggies and fruit yet most is wrapped in plastic in Germany.
Even if you do go to the market they offer plastic (I have my own bag).
I try to avoid it yet I have a bag full of plastic each week!
We recycle glass, we spend endless times recycling plastic bottles (I have tab water!Not so hubby!). Paper and all, but at train stations I've seen it all ends up in one bin!!
There are few shops where you can bring your own containers, but it's (too) expensive.

It could be easy to be better but... as Jeanie said, a complicated mess.

Johanna GGG said...

Hi Mae - a really interesting post. Good to hear what is happening in the US. In Australia we are also struggling with recycling because China has stopped taking it. I think it is a good wake up call but also scary. In my parents' council they have stopped taking recycling because one plant was shut down by health and safety (I think). Meanwhile I am struggled with a lot of cardboards which seem to have plastic incorporated and not sure if they are recyclable or not. It is a dilemma - and gets worse by carelessness - recently someone put food in our recycling bin which was really annoying.

Jenny Woolf said...

As with everything, this needs serious political will. And that applies to all aspects of conservation, seems to me. Not only could supermarkets be forced to use paper rather than plastic bag (or potato starch bags, which do biodegrade) but also there could be a tax on plastic packaging so consumers understand they are paying considerably more if they want a plastic container. Our local council accepts all kinds of things in its dry recyclables, from aluminium to cardboard to plastic. I am trying to figure that out.

Liz said...

Mae, you have described the problem very well. It is a worry. I take mesh bags to the store and try to avoid plastic but it is everywhere in packaging. Plastic grocery bags have been banned here but it is only the beginning. And if you include glass it seems overwhelming. I don't know the solution.

I think the best short term solution is for us to complain directly to companies. There is no reason to package salad greens in those clam shells. We must be able to find another technology that can be composted. And why wrap vegetables in plastic? Again, isn't there something else that can be used?

The paper here described someone who would dump her veggies and other items into her own bags and and jars, then give the packaging back to the checkout person.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

What an interesting read. I live in a small village and we have the most amazing recycling. Everything except cling film and containers that are food contaminated i.e. not washed, cannot go in the recycling. Everything else is popped into a clear bag which we are given each week. This is then sorted by people who earn an income from their sorting. These people who do the sorting have saved our country 75 billion Rand ($5 billion) in landfill costs in one year!

Tiffin Fiona said...

Thanks for that thought provoking tour Mae. Recycling is a real issue everywhere, now that China has stopped taking plastic and cardboards (as they should have - they have their own enormous stockpiles). We are excellent recyclers and repurposers but it has now come to the stage where every time I pick up a plastic box or something in a scrunchable plastic bag, I have to second guess myself. Sure, it goes into the bin for recycling but realistically, most o these things don’t need the pacakaging. Besides reusable bags and produce bags, we have moved to sourcing some pantry items at bulk stores but the real difference for us is we have amped up our composting of thin papers and cardboards. It’s amazing what those worms will eat! I talk a little about our own move to reducing out footprint in my own IMK this month.

Tiffin Fiona said...

Oh! I think my comments went astray in the log in process... Thanks for this thought provoking post. Recycling has become a problem for the world, particularly since China is no longer accepting plastic and cardboard. And really, why should they? They have enough to recycle and deal with themselves. We are very good recyclers but are now at the stage where I get an attack of the guilts if I but something like cheese slices that come in a plastic box. Technically it can be recycled but is probably being stockpiled somewhere. No my mind is filled with how to move to zero (or minimal) waste and not add anything into the chain. We have made some small inroads by visiting a bulk store but it must be said, it’s a tad inconvenient and we are lucky enough to have sufficient income to make the move. Not everyone is in that position. You can read a little about this in my most recent IMK.

Great post Mae!

Kim Bultman said...

Mae, what a poignant and passionate look at the problem! (Please pardon the alliteration...) I'm not trying to make light of it -- half the battle is "awareness" and you've done a great job of informing the masses without resorting to hysteria. The truth is, we live in a "throw away" society and many folks don't give a hoot about what goes into their trash, or who it may affect down the road. (Even themselves!)

Thanks for making it MY problem, not just a generic idea. I've been reading posts from Australia with rapt attention -- seems like they're ahead of the curve -- and so are you! Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing enough? People always comment on my "shop local" bag (a re-usable freebie) and the check-out clerks seem surprised when I show up with produce "as is." (No plastic baggies for me!) All it takes is a lil' effort, and awareness, as I said. THANK YOU! xo

Tina said...

We try and shop at local places as much as possible and I always recycle. Wish more people did. It's surely a global issue.

K-cups are very popular at work and I have been asked many times when i am going to ditch the coffee pot and use a Keurig. The answer is never! What a horrific waste. I also like the Campari tomatoes but the plastic container is how they market them here too.

Tina said...

I had to come back and say thanks for the info on the Amana corning ware dish. I was 11 years old in 1967. That's so neat that this dish survived long enough to become part of our cookware. Wonder where it lived before.

Shaheen said...

Hi Mae,

An insightful blog post of whats happening in your part of the world
(and your home in relation to recycling). China has stopped taking recyclable waste from the UK a couple of years back, so its become a growing concern in the UK, plus TV series Blue Planet raised awareness of the impact of plastic on our oceans. But its all small steps. Ido believe commercialisation is where most of the responsibility lies, creating a disposable culture - but we as consumers also have to take some responsibility and some serious changes in our lifestyle and the way we consume things, but its not always clear what is and what is not recyclable. I could natter on for ages, but I will stop. Thanks for sharing