It’s Time for a Garbage Makeover

Who doesn’t love a good makeover? I’d say our poor, neglected garbage cans are definitely overdue. I mean, we all recycle and throw things away every day, but there’s so much misinformation out there that I feel like we need a Garbage Czar— or at the very least a Garbage Miss Manners— to help us all get the facts straight.

I officially volunteer.

Here are just a few facts to help revamp the way you discard:

Paper, cardboard and boxboard

Paper, cardboard and boxboard (what cereal boxes are made of) are of course, all recyclable. We do a pretty decent job of it too: according to the EPA 68% of paper produced gets recycled. But what about if your envelopes or boxboard or cardboard have little cellophane windows? Or stickers?

Turns out that when paper gets to the mill for recycling, it is shredded and then pulped in giant vats with water and chemicals to help break it down. This liquid is then run through screens to remove paperclips, staples, cellophane, tape and anything else that isn’t paper. No worries! Your phone book with the binding still intact, and your pasta box with the plastic window? Is still getting recycled.


Glass is of course recyclable. Glass gets sorted by color and then pulverized. Broken glass gets filtered through a series of screens which separate out non-glass material, after which heat is introduced which burns away remaining paper and other non-glass bits.

Here’s the problem though: because so many garbage services have switched to single stream collection, glass is getting broken and hard to sort in the waste stream. Even though glass manufacturers want this material, the U.S. has never managed to recycle more than 30% of glass produced, whereas the EU recycles 75 % of its glass. Proof that single stream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

All will fear the wrath of the confused-looking Garbage Czar


Tinfoil is one of those things most people probably don’t realize they can recycle as long as it is clean: just lay it on the sink bottom and drag your sponge across it in horizontal strokes, then lay it in the dish drainer to dry.

The trick is to save up a bunch of pieces of tin foil so you can ball them up into the size of a potato or a softball- just big enough to ensure they won’t fall through the cracks of the recycling sorting system. Or- now that its clean- you could reuse it!


Multilayers are one of those materials that you’ve probably never heard of that are absolutely everywhere: chip and snack bags, frozen food bags, coffee bags, much of the shrink wrapping around meats, salad mix bags, pet treat bags… They’re all made with Frankenstein combinations of micro-thin layers of many different kinds of plastic and foil, mylar, paper and still more plastic.

Recyclable? Not in a million years.

Rigid plastic

Rigid plastic doesn’t get recycled most of the time. In fact, 95% of plastic produced does not get recycled- with those odds, trying to recycle your plastic is like trying to win the lottery.

Technically the plastics marked with RIC numbers (resin identification code- the numbers inside the chasing arrow triangle) 1 and 2 have the very best chance. On the other hand, recycled plastics have their own unique set of problems, so there’s an argument to be made we shouldn’t be recycling them at all- more on this in a future post.

Garbage Miss Manners always puts things on her head

Plastic Wrap

Plastic Wrap manufacturers want you to think their product is recyclable. If you call many of them and ask, as I did, they’ll tell you it is. The problem is that it totally isn’t: no one wants this stuff gumming up the works at their recycling center- period.

Instead, why not head over to Grandma’s, or the local charity resale shop and pick yourself up some pretty, lidded Pyrex? This was plastic wrap before plastic wrap was invented, and you know what? It is beautiful, functional, and infinitely reusable.

Do YOU have a Garbage Makeover question? Ask me! I am the Czar after all. AND I have a tin foil tiara.

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