Reduce, Reuse, Remove The Cellophane: Recycling Demystified Are plastic bags recyclable? Why are Christmas lights a no-go? A recycling plant operations manager takes readers' questions about the process.

Reduce, Reuse, Remove The Cellophane: Recycling Demystified

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OK, now let's follow that yogurt container into the blue recycling bin. Now, maybe we think we're being virtuous when we move that recycling bin out to the curb each week. But it turns out, we've been a little too creative about what can be recycled, and this is not good.

MICHAEL TAYLOR: A treadmill, an old rocking horse, a cooler - not your typical newspaper, bottles and cans.

GREENE: That's Michael Taylor listing the non-recyclables he's been weeding out at the waste management plant in Elkridge, Md., which he manages. Here, front-end loaders attack a mountain of debris, which is then dumped onto a massive conveyor belt. A dozen workers then weed out all the non-recyclables. Sometimes small, plastic bags will gum up the entire system. Every few hours one will slip through and Taylor has to shut down the machines.

TAYLOR: We have to climb into those screens and remove all of the plastic in order to make the machine work more efficiently.

GREENE: Taylor says it is best to take plastic bags back to the store. And if you think flip-flops, bowling balls and Christmas lights should be recycled - they should not be. We asked MORNING EDITION listeners for their questions before setting out for Elkridge. Robert Kisling of Stillwater, Okla., wondered if it's a waste of time and water to rinse out containers before recycling them.

TAYLOR: It is actually helpful because a jar of jelly or a half-empty soda bottle will contaminate the other materials. So we prefer that materials get rinsed before they get put in the recycling bin.

GREENE: Listeners also had some questions about light bulbs.

TAYLOR: We have a material that we still have to pay to get rid of because of the market for glass has continued to decline.

GREENE: And that is just one factor making this business less profitable; declining demand for recycled paper in China is another. So let's do our part to hold down costs by maybe keeping those flip-flops and computer monitors out of those blue bins.

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