SEATTLE — Do you recycle? A lot of people do, but experts say not everyone is taking the necessary steps to ensure the items that end up in the recycling bin actually get recycled and reused, and not in the landfill.
Should you wash your items before recycling them?
Yes, experts say it's crucial to wash your recyclables before putting them in the bin.
WHAT WE FOUND
How important is it to wash an item before you recycle it? To find out, we checked with the Environmental Protection Agency and interviewed a representative from Waste Management of the Pacific Northwest.
Although the amount of stuff we recycle has skyrocketed in the last few decades, about 10% of the items get contaminated and therefore cannot be recycled.
Hannah Scholes is the manager of the Education and Outreach Team for Waste Management of the Pacific Northwest, the largest American company in the industry.
When it comes to recycling items, she said cleaning it first should be a priority.
"Clean is the number one thing, and that means a thorough spoon-cleaning," said Scholes. "So you shouldn't be able to get another bite of peanut butter or yogurt out of that container."
Scholes said it’s important not to get frustrated, throw up your hands and throw everything into the garbage. But a thorough cleaning makes a big difference, especially with wet items, which can contaminate an entire batch.
"So if it's a can of beans, or if it's a half full soda bottle, all those things really do gum up the system," said Scholes.
She said a good rule of thumb for a bottle or a can: if you can shake it, and nothing comes out, you're good to go.
Last but not least, whether it's a compostable egg carton with a paper label on it, or a plastic shopping bag -- don't "wish-cycle."
"That’s when people think, 'Well, I'm not sure if this is good enough. I'm just going to toss it in there and hope it's okay,'" said Scholes. "And I really encourage people - give it that extra clean, because it really does make a difference."
So, we can verify it's not just important, it's vital, to wash and dry your items before you recycle them.