The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

What not to recycle

Recyclables conveyor belt

In addition to being wowed by the combination mechanical and human-operated sorting system, the biggest takeaway from our tour of the local recycling facility was what was best not tossed in the recycling bin.

Our tour guide prefaced his warnings with the statement that every recycling facility is different. And single-stream facilities like theirs (where you deposit all of the recyclables in a single container) are more particular than ones where the consumer sorts their own trash.


With those caveats out of the way, here's what I shouldn't have been recycling:

Don't bag your recyclables because the line workers will have to tear the bag apart before the machines can start sorting. And, whatever you do, don't put your recyclables in a black bag --- they workers will assume it's trash and throw it out for safety reasons.

Hand separation of recyclables

Anything smaller than a business card tends to get lost in the shuffle. That means shredded paper is a no-no. Plastic bottles should be crushed then the cap should be screwed back on.

Similarly, heavy scrap metal just doesn't work on the assembly line. Our guide told us about the metal from a ratchet strap that got caught in the line and messed up a $40,000 motor. Yikes!


Tanglers are also trouble. That's anything like string, cords, or rope that will wind around various materials (and parts of the assembly line), clogging up the works.

Finally, don't stuff different types of recyclables inside each other (like filling up cardboard boxes with plastic bottles). The materials won't get separated properly and will result in contamination in the finished product.

Disassembly line

All of that said, a non-profit like our local recycling and trash pickup facility manages to salvage 91% of the materials that go on the assembly line, finding buyers despite the fact China no longer wants our waste. Great work, Athens-Hocking Recycling!

(And one final piece of fun trivia --- did you know Mark wanted to be a garbageman when he was a kid?)

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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