"Reduce, reuse, recycle!"
This is by no means a new campaign; most of us recycle now, almost to the point of it being second nature. If you're like me, then you're always proud of yourself when you toss away your Gatorade bottle in the recycling bin on campus. But are we even recycling correctly?
If you leave the cap on your bottle, then no, you're not.
On the UF campus, you can place metal cans, glass, and No. 1 and 2 plastics in the designated recycling bins. Such plastics include soda and water bottles, peanut butter jars, five-gallon buckets and milk jugs. But wait, have you ever noticed the sign posted on the recycling bins that says "No caps or liquids?" Yeah, me neither. Until this year.
Let me explain why caps and lids aren't allowed in the recycling bins. The caps that seal plastics like soda bottles are made of a different plastic than the bottle itself. The soda bottle is melted with other No. 1 plastics at a treatment facility so it can be recycled and remade. But if you melt two different plastics together, they won't blend, and the whole batch is considered contaminated.
According to Dale Morris, the Solid Waste Coordinator for UF, "Even slightly intermixed (contaminated) plastic cannot be used to make good fibers, bottles, wrappers or structural forms." So what happens with those plastic or glass bottles with the caps attached? They get thrown out, buried in a landfill, left to slowly release their chemicals into the ground.
What? That's an outrage! Of course it is, but it isn't really the recycling plant's fault that the plastics can't be melted together. Another reason lids aren't recycled is because they pose a risk when still attached to bottles to workers at the recycling facility if they are placed in the baling machine. So you might complain about one extra step, but no one wants to risk worker safety.
It's as simple as taking the cap off and throwing it away. You don't even have to save the cap for an art project or find another recycling bin to place it in if you don't want to. Just twist it off, and toss it out. That one step brings you closer to ensuring that you are really making a difference by recycling.
There are other things you can do to help the recycling effort, including rinsing out your bottles and jars and crushing plastic bottles and aluminum cans to conserve space. And if you're feeling extra eco-savvy, then please do! But if you don't take the cap off, your recycling effort is useless.
I don't blame you for not knowing because I was right there with you until last spring. But now that you know better, please take the cap off next time you recycle a bottle. Make recycling worth your time and effort.
Christie Harrod is a wildlife ecology and conservation senior at UF.