Editorial: Keep trash out of recycling bins

Editorial: Keep trash out of recycling bins
Eldridge, MD--June 5, 2018--This is the sorting facility of Waste Management Recycle America on Kit Kat Rd. Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun Staff. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Recycling is supposed to be a good thing. Throw what would otherwise end up in a landfill into a bin that ultimately gets re-purposed into another useful item, and maybe generates some money in the process.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it seems to work these days. Altruistic recyclers tend to put more items into the bins than they should, especially since the advent of single-stream recycling.


Single-stream recycling — putting all materials to be recycled into a single bin rather than separating them — has greatly increased the amount of items people are trying to recycle, but the downside is a lot of items that should really be going in the trash end up in the recycling bin instead.

While the intention is good — better to recycle this than it end up in a landfill, right? — it can actually create more waste by contaminating an otherwise good batch of recyclables. It’s good that people want to recycle, but it is also important that they are knowledgeable about what can be recycled and what should just go into the trash can.

Mixing in some greasy pizza boxes and fast-food containers with a bunch of cardboard boxes may not seem like a big deal, but it lowers the quality of the recycled cardboard product. The same happens if too many plastic containers contain food scraps, for example.

At the Waste Management facility in Elkridge, where recycling from Carroll and other jurisdictions ends up, roughly 16 percent of recycling brought there is contaminated according to a spokesperson.

This isn’t just a Carroll County problem, but something that has happened across the board. Because of that, it now costs many jurisdictions money to recycle materials, rather than serving as a revenue source like it did just a few years ago.

“If people continue to put things into the recycling bins that don’t belong there … it makes it harder and harder to move any product,” Carroll County Recycling Manager Maria Myers told us. “And if someone were to do an audit of our recycling, if they find all that stuff in there, it gets harder and harder to find people who want [to buy] it.”

The process is further complicated by certain materials entering the single stream that can be recycled, just not through that process. For example, in Carroll County, the government contracts with a company that can recycle expanded polystyrene, better known by its brand name Styrofoam, but that material must be dropped off at the landfill. But a different company that handles the single-stream recycling picked up curbside is not responsible for Styrofoam.

The county also recently banned single-use plastic bags from being recycled because they jam up machinery used to sort recyclables. Instead, Carroll suggests bringing plastic bags to collections at grocery stores.

Other items that shouldn’t be put into your home recycling bid include batteries, electronics, ceramics or dishes, yard waste, motor oil containers, light bulbs, windows and mirrors.

Clean cardboard like shipping packages, cereal boxes and paper towel rolls are acceptable, as are steel, tin or aluminum cans, containers and foil; and glass bottles, jars and a variety of plastic bottles and containers, so long as they are rinsed out. Newspapers, magazines, office paper and junk mail can also go into the bins for single stream pickup.

For an exact list of items and additional information about recycling in Carroll County, visit or call 410-386-2035.