Pandemic-propelled ‘wish cycling’ poses big problems at recycling centers

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MINNEAPOLIS (UKTN) – Think about how much your habits have changed during the pandemic.

All of these changes are visible at local residential recycling facilities, and some of them are problematic.

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UKTN visited the Eureka recycling facility in Minneapolis, which serves residents of cities across the subway to see what we’re doing wrong. Lynn Hoffman is the co-chair of Eureka.

“This flow of rejection, it really tells stories about what’s going on in our communities,” Hoffman said.

And if that’s true, the story at their establishment during the pandemic is that we drink at home and order online – a lot.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in cardboard, and we’ve definitely seen an increase in aluminum coming out of people’s homes,” Hoffman said.

(credit: UKTN)

There is a market for all that recycled cardboard, but it has to go through the sorting facility first, and that can be a challenge.

Cardboard jams from oversized boxes regularly slow down teams. But these boxes are not the only culprits. Hoffman says plastic bags, black plastics, and plastic utensils are trash, but often end up in the recycling bin.

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“A lot of our equipment runs on axles, and those bags are all rolled up and make our equipment a lot less efficient,” she said. “So we have to close, people have to climb the cut up with cutters. They are very problematic. “

Hoffman says disposable masks and gloves also go in the trash. All of the “wishcycling” we do keeps the Eureka crews busy, as they take things like batteries, propane tanks, and pots and pans out into the trash.

“Extension cords, Christmas lights, garden hoses, those kinds of things that we get a lot of, and that really wreak havoc on our equipment. They wrap around the gears and axles, ”she says.

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To be fair, it can be confusing. Take, for example, an insulator for a meal kit.

“Really confusing because look at this, ‘Put me in your sidewalk bin, number one,’ and that’s just not true,” Hoffman said.

Different cities and recyclers accept different things, so you need to check. And that recycling symbol on the packaging doesn’t always mean you can actually recycle it.
This, Hoffman says, is about the people who make the products.

“You find these little arrows on just about every piece of plastic, but that really doesn’t mean anything,” Hoffman said. “The reality is, it’s the makers of these products that aren’t completely honest and that don’t invest in the systems we need to recycle these products.”

(credit: UKTN)

Most paper, cardboard, cans and bottles of number one soda are generally recycled. The same goes for detergent number two and the milk jugs – although Hoffmann hopes we can find a better solution.

“We’re actually a zero waste nonprofit, so our mission is to demonstrate that waste is completely avoidable,” Hoffman said.

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She hopes we can all reduce our waste and recycle what we don’t want so it doesn’t end up in the facility.

“The climate impacts of creating these materials, and frankly even recycling them, will require real creative solutions from across the supply chain,” she said.

“You find these little arrows on just about every piece of plastic, but that really doesn’t mean anything,” Hoffman said. “The reality is, it’s the makers of these products that aren’t completely honest and that don’t invest in the systems we need to recycle these products.”

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Remember that batteries are never thrown away or recycled as they present a risk of fire. Black plastics go in the trash. And experts from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency say reducing our food waste can have a huge impact on the environment.

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