County Update: Commissioner Hanzlick sorts out recycling questions in Johnson County

Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick.

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 4 Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick, whose district includes much of central Overland Park.

Hanzlick during a visit to the Johnson County Recycling Center.

While Johnson County residents are passionate about recycling, most of us are not quite sure of the rules. Does the bottle cap stay on or off? What about pizza boxes, batteries, or light bulbs? Recycling can be confusing! That’s why, in this week’s County Commissioner’s column, with help from the county’s Solid Waste Management Program, I want to answer the question, “What can or can’t go in my recycling bin?”.

First, some basic guidelines:

  • Don’t put plastic bags of any kind in the recycling bin. Plastic bags and bagged recyclables in your bin will most likely end up in the landfill. They also get caught in the machinery at the recycling facility and lower the value of other recyclables. Instead, take your plastic bags, dry cleaner bags, and other plastic wraps to area grocery stores that accept these items.
  • Don’t assume because an item is labeled “recyclable” that you can put it in the bin. What is recyclable in one community could be trash in another, depending on the availability of local buyers.=
  • Don’t put items in your recycling bin if you don’t know that they are locally recyclable. Putting the wrong items in your recycling bin (sometimes called “wishcycling”) can lead to costly damage to recycling equipment, delays, injuries to workers, and higher costs.
  • Most trash haulers in Johnson County use the Waste Management recycling facility, so recycling rules shouldn’t vary by hauler. If in doubt, check with your local provider.

Frequently Asked Recycling Questions:

Q: What are the most common items that I can put in my recycling bin?
A: Cardboard, paper, mail, beverage cans, metal cans, plastic bottles and caps, milk jugs, aseptic cartons, plastic frozen food trays, plastic and paper egg cartons (not Styrofoam), empty aerosol cans

Q: What are examples of items I should not put in my recycling bin?
A: Plastic bags, paper or plastic plates, cups and utensils, straws, juice pouches, fabric, single serve coffee cups and lids, CDs, light bulbs, batteries, shredded paper, books, needles, and food or food-soiled paper (like greasy pizza boxes)

Q: Do I have to take the tops off plastic beverage bottles?
A: No, you can keep lids and labels on!

Q: Should I wash containers with soap and water before putting then in the recycling bin?
A: No, but rinse all containers (plastic, metal, etc.) with water to remove major food debris

Q: Can I recycle compostable utensils, plates and cups?
A: Compostable tableware is not recyclable. These products can be composted through commercial composting operations, but they do not decompose in backyard compost bins.

Q: What about greasy pizza boxes?
A: Clean cardboard can go in recycling, but tear off the side that is greasy and put it in the trash

Q: If a plastic container has a triangle with a number inside, that means it is recyclable, right?
A: The well-recognized “chasing arrows” symbol we see on plastic products does not mean the product is locally recyclable. The plastics that can go in your bin are #1 (PETE), #2 (HDPE), and #5 (polypropylene).

Q: Is recycling truly beneficial for the environment?
A: Data from the US Environmental Protection Agency shows that recycling conserves energy and natural resources. However, the most effective way to reduce waste, and the most environmentally preferred strategy, is to not create it in the first place. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – in that order.

For a comprehensive printable list of what can and can’t go into your recycling bin, click this link.