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Trash Talk And Decluttering

Cardboard on wood pallets for recycling
Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash

Our last chapter meeting of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals featured the perfect educational program for Earth Day: members of the Waste Diversion program from St. Louis County Department of Health spoke about trash and recycling. And it was fascinating! I thought I’d share some nuggets of information with you.

Let’s talk trash first of all. The Department of Health licenses companies to collect trash and recycling. Should the companies fail to follow the rules, they could face fines or losing their license. Some of the rules pertain to the creating of landfills. I had the mistaken idea that trash was essentially thrown into a big hole in the ground and covered up with dirt. Disposing of trash is much more complicated than that. There are systems and rules in place that protect the public’s safety. The pits are lined with impermeable barriers to prevent leakage. Special vents are in place because methane is produced as the trash breaks. Constant monitoring is done to prevent groundwater contamination and other potential problems.

The public can help prevent problems by properly disposing of items. Household chemicals should be taken to a household hazardous waste facility. Keep the chemicals in their original bottles – do not consolidate or you may end up with a chemistry experiment gone wrong. Both the St. Louis Metropolitan Area (including Jefferson County) and St. Charles County have facilities: and, respectively. Make a reservation online. The facilities are irregular hours and if you think you’ll just drop by without an appointment, you may be disappointed. By the way, water-based latex paint is not a hazardous waste. To dispose of it, dry it out in the can or mix it with clay cat litter before drying it out. After it’s dry you can dispose of it in the trash.

Electronics need special disposal as well. There are two places that take electronics for recycling: Midwest Recycling Center and Spectrum Ecycle Solutions. Anything that has a plug or runs on batteries can be brought to an electronic recycling facility. The method of battery disposal depends on the type of battery. Alkaline batteries can be disposed of in the trash. Lithium (Li Ion or Li Poly), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), nickel cadmium (NiCd) and lead acid batteries can be brought to Batteries Plus for recycling. Our society has a lot of discarded electronics and all of the stuff that goes with them.

Plastic however has many of us really concerned. I was very pleased to find out that any stretchy plastic (for example: bread bags, shrink wrap, and zipper bags) can be put with the plastic grocery bags for recycling. Almost every grocery store and super store has a collection bin for plastic grocery bags. Do not put bags or stretchy plastic into your curbside recycling bin. Cellophane and styrofoam cannot be recycled. Please do not put things into the recycling bin that aren’t able to be recycled – doing so can cause processing issues at the recycling plant.

You can prevent more issues by insuring that the items you put into the recycling bin are clean. Here are some more quick tips I learned:

  • Caps on or off? On. Caps by themselves are too small to be processed.
  • Jar lids on or off? On. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the equipment can handle the lids with magnets.
  • Pizza boxes? Only the parts that don’t have food or grease on them can be recycled. The other parts need to be put in the trash.
  • Foil? Yep. Wipe it off and it can be recycled.

A terrific way to reduce our impact on the environment is to use fewer single-use items. Keep reusable shopping bags in your car and put a reminder on your steering wheel to bring the bags into the store. Use food storage containers instead of plastic wrap or bags. St. Louis County’s website has some more ideas for reducing waste.

While it is good to recycle as much as possible, please do not hold on to something because you’re not sure how to recycle it and you don’t want it to go to the landfill. Treating your home as the landfill is not a better option, and actually it is the worse option. Cluttering your home will not save the environment. Wishing something were able to be recycled will not suddenly make it OK to put in the recycling bin. Not everything can be recycled, which is why the folks from St. Louis County’s Waste Diversion program wanted us to know that we can throw things away without guilt.