HeartWork Organizing

Helping you find peace and purpose through organization and design

Recycling Do’s and Don’t for Single Stream Recycling: From The Source March 6, 2012

Filed under: Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

Before heading to the Waste Management Materials Handling Facility (pronounced merfs by those in the biz) in Northeast Philadelphia, I asked my peeps what they wanted to know about recycling rules. Your questions, and maybe a few you didn’t think to ask, are answered here, thanks to Patty Barthel at Waste Management.

Why can’t we put pizza boxes in for paper recycling?

If the box is super clean, break it down and throw it in. But if it’s greasy or stuck with cheese, it contaminates the rest of the paper in a batch to be recycled.

Must we separate plastic bottles from their caps?

HA! NO! This was actually the question everyone wanted to know. If you are concerned because the cap and bottle are different levels of plastic, worry no more. Apparently, plastics get baled together and sent to a plastics recycling plant, where they are crushed, ground, floated, and who knows what else. Then they are made into new plastic goods and  – surprise! – new fleece jackets you wear to the gym. So no, don’t separate your water bottle from its cap, and don’t throw the caps in the trash.

Must you separate the lids from glass jars?

I keep the lids on my recycles so my kitchen doesn’t smell. It turns out, that’s just fine. The glass usually breaks in the truck, and separates from the metal lid anyway. Glass going through the recycling plant is all tiny shards at the end of the line.

Are magazines recyclable?

Yes. Even paperback books can be recycled. Hardback book covers can not be recycled, but if you tear the covers off of books, you can send the pages to recycling.

Envelopes with plastic windows?

I have known people who stress over putting envelopes in recycling if it has a plastic window. This was a problem when recycling was a new industry, but now there are appropriate tolerances in the system that allow for this sort of thing.

Can shredded paper go into recycling?

YES! Go ahead and shred your old checks, but put the shreds into paper bags or directly in your bin, NOT in plastic bags, or it will go to the landfill. I saw one of these while I was there, headed out the back end of the plant.

If I’m not sure it’s recyclable and I put it in, what happens to it in the end?

“If you put it in the bin and we don’t need it, we’re going to throw it away,” says Patty. Makes sense. They are recyclers, not magicians, so about 10% of what comes in still goes out to the landfill.

How clean should food containers be?

Lightly rinse, then toss in the bin. Labels are no problem, either.

Can you recycle aluminum foil?

No. Foil isn’t desirable. Even foil pans, like the ones you carry to the church supper, aren’t very desirable. But if they are large enough and very clean, the system may still bale them with metals, so if it makes you feel better, throw them in.


Not here. But there are some great places to take your old PC, fax machine, TV, or phone. My favorite is Best Buy, because they are everywhere and take everything.  Whole Foods recently hosted electronics recycling events in my neck of the woods. Be on the lookout for other take-back events in your community.

Here’s a shocker: TOYS!

You know those gigantic colorful toys, like swimming pools, kitchens, and rocking toys? Once they’ve been enjoyed, passed down, and completely sun-faded, they too can be baled along with other rigid plastics, like buckets. However, toys that have lots of metals and electronics, like cars, won’t make the cut. It’s a good idea to think of this when you are making the initial purchase.

Some of those colorful blobs could be plastic toys heading for their next life.

Styrofoam and packing peanuts?

Sadly, no, even if it is marked with a “5”, styrofoam does not get recycled. At all. Ever. Stay away from it if at all possible. But if you ever become the proud owner of packing peanuts, you can drop them off at UPS Stores and many other places that pack and ship, and they’ll re-use them.

What about batteries, CFL lightbulbs, and needles/sharps?

Household batteries are one of the hardest things to recycle. CFL bulbs are so new, they are confusing.  And used needles should be handled properly, of course. Why should you care? It turns out that batteries have really nasty stuff in them. Those metals should really be recycled, not leached into our landfills. Waste Management has a nifty solution. Order a mail-order recycle pack at Think Green From Home, and ship your stuff once a year or so.

Hazmat  Recycling

Don’t send your hazmat stuff here or, God forbid, dump it in the trash.  Take your full paint buckets, household chemicals, and other hazmat to an approved facility or county drop off.  Even tires are considered hazmat, not recycling.


While I learned a lot on this trip, the industry is constantly changing. I hope the next time I take the trip, they are taking styrofoam and pizza boxes. Please be open to changes to your local recycling process over the next few years.

What else do you want to know about the recycling process?


Field Trip to My Trash March 1, 2012

Filed under: Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:30 pm
Tags: , , ,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

I recently took a trip to a recycling facility. Field trips were the best days when I was in school. Usually just the break in routine was enough to get me excited, but field trips were usually fun, too. This was all of that and good for you, too.  If you want your kids to have their own recycling adventure, you can check out this recycling curriculum, designed for elementary school-aged kids by a national recycler.

My township went to “single stream” recycling a couple of years ago. Homeowners get to throw all of their recycles into one bin, and they get sorted out at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF). Apparently, that increases recycling rates by 50%.

recycling dos and don'ts

from Allied Waste/Republic Services, applies to Radnor Township

You can take your own Waste Management recycling tour via this video. My initial impression when I saw this was that the process moves super fast, just like our exuberant Waste Management PR host for the tour, Patty Barthel. It’s hard to find people so excited about trash! If you go in person, you’ll get to wear those super sexy hard hat, safety glasses, earplugs, and safety vest, just like I did. (Sorry, I’m not giving up that picture!)

My big aha moment was that recycled materials are not just trash to avoid, they are an industry. An industry! It produces jobs. It generates millions of dollars in raw materials. It is highly automated. It is continually evolving. Oh, yeah, and it keeps our stuff out of landfills.

This state-of-the-art facility is only a year old, built in November 2010, but I’m wondering why we don’t have one of these in every neighborhood.  This relatively small facility was very impressive. It processes over 20,000 tons of material each month: glass, metal, plastics, and paper.  I don’t really know what 20,000 tons looks like, but I do know what a Boeing 757 looks like, and this facility processes the weight of two hundred sixty-one Boeing 737’s each month.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Recycling is mandated by the state, but controlled by counties or municipalities in Pennsylvania. It turns out there are lots of MRFs in our region, but they don’t all operate exactly the same. You need to dig a little to know what to put into-and keep out of-your bin. Go to your township’s homepage, and there’s probably a link for Trash & Recycling. It’s worth checking out, because there are plenty of things that go through the line that shouldn’t. Patty said she’s seen these kooky things, among others, on the recycling line:

Bowling balls do not belong in recycling.

  • bowling balls
  • mattresses
  • garden hoses
  • asphalt
  • car batteries

When I was there, I saw these non-recycles on the line:

  • Barbies
  • bath towels
  • window blinds
  • a basketball and baseball
  • a full plastic bag holding carefully shredded paper
  • tires
  • an umbrella

An umbrella???? Seriously?

The entire facility is a series of conveyor belts that look a lot like the rides at Sesame Place. Patty called it an amusement park for your water bottle.

At the end of the ride, everything is baled and sold as a resource for new materials. There are bales of rigid plastic, other plastics, paper, and metals. Less than 10% of what comes in leaves as trash.

Single Stream recycling is highly automated through disk screens, optical sorters, magnets, and air flows in addition to the facility workers, but it only works when dissimilar materials are separated from each other. If you buy something that has a cardboard liner inside a plastic wrap, remove the cardboard from the wrapper, otherwise the whole thing ends up in the landfill.

Speaking of plastic bags, they don’t belong in curbside recycling at all. Shopping bags, dry cleaning wraps, and trash bags can be dropped off at many local grocery stores. They literally gum up the works. Don’t use plastic bags for your recycles, or they end up caught in the gears and screeners, like this.

What can you recycle at this facility? Do you need to wash, sort, or separate into your bins? In part two of this post, I’ll spill the beans.

Um, you compost beans. They don’t recycle well.


Cast Offs Lead to Better Habitats February 2, 2012

Filed under: One Day Interior Redesigns — HeartWork Organizing @ 9:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

Giving new life to old treasures is a lofty calling and something I love to do.  Helping people live better lives ranks right up there with chocolate cake and spa treatments.  When I get to be involved with an organization that does both, I get shivers.

Recently, I finally made it out to visit two Habitat ReStores.  You probably have heard that Habitat for Humanity builds low-cost, safe housing for the communities they serve in the US and abroad.  In the Philadelphia area, there are several ReStores that are run by local Habitat chapters to help raise funds for their local projects by selling new and gently used donated household items.  The stores have an emphasis on building materials, but they also accept furniture, lighting, small household accessories, and many other items.  Donations are tax-deductible, and many of the items you’ll find at the stores are even new from the big box stores.

The Gloucester County ReStore is located in Pitman, South Jersey and carries way more than just doors and windows.  They have sofas, lighting fixtures, and bric-a-brac, even books.  The South Jersey chapter is finishing up their work on building an entire housing development, and they are working on several projects in the area. I worked on helping to build one of their homes years ago, before kids, of course. I fondly remember the old guys on Tuesday morning letting me help them hang kitchen cabinets when the time was right.

The Delaware County ReStore  is located inside Granite Run Mall.  When we (me and my two tiny assistants) were there recently, we spied this gorgeous vintage coffee table with a granite top.  I wanted it, but don’t currently have a project right for it.  Just look at the detail and so sweet little wheels!  Like many items at the ReStores, this beauty doesn’t even need any rehab.

For instance, I spied these wonderful wood blinds, a full set of them, that would be just right for someone needing 30″ blinds.  They are high quality and undamaged.  There were six of them.

And this light, mantel and custom cornice are also the victim of someone’s decorating project, no doubt, but a steal for the next owner.

Yes, there is plenty of cute furniture for DIYers to keep busy with.  I spied this sweet cabinet.  Can’t you just see it all modernized with a fresh coat of cream or a dramatic black?

There are plenty of deals.  There are also some basic materials.  My girls both had their dolls with them on the day we visited, and since we’re in the middle (I hope the middle and not the start) of potty training, all the dolls got to sit on the potties that were in the store.

So go, visit the ReStores.  They will be thrilled if you can save a couple of bucks on your next project, and help them raise funds for their next Habitat for Humanity house in our area.


Responsibly Dispose of Paper, Electronics, Drugs and Hazmat April 12, 2011

Filed under: Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 8:28 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

April is the month for spring cleaning events.  No, not those that take a mop and a sponge.  You can make a real dent in your household clutter by responsibly disposing of old papers, electronics, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and household hazardous chemicals. 

Paper shredding events are very common in the weeks following April tax filings.  Immediately after filing your tax return is a great time to clear out your oldest records that your CPA recommends you destroy.  Most people should keep the past seven years of financial records and shred earlier ones, but check with your personal advisor.  If you aren’t sure what to keep and what to shred, consider implementing a filing system that tells you what to keep and for how long.  For those without a personal home shredder, these outdoor events are very handy.  They are often offered by banks, municipalities, and community service organizations.  Usually the sponsoring organization hires a professional document destruction company to bring their shredding containers or trucks on site, and usually the shredding is done right in front of you.  These are usually offered to individual consumers, although many small business owners can make use of the service if their volume is small.  The sponsoring organization may have certain guidelines for the event, such as proof of residency, a limit on the number of bags or boxes that can be dropped off (usually two to four), the types of material accepted (staples and paper clips are ok; hardback books, binders, and computer disks are not), and a minimum fee or suggested donation (usually under $10).  You can find one of these events in your area by doing a Google search for “shredding event” and your town, zip code, or region name. 

Electronics recycling events are a little harder to come by, although they have increased in the last five years.  Also called e-waste, all types of electronic gear can and should be properly recycled.  According to www.earth911.com, a reputable source for information and recycling locations,   “While e-waste only accounts for two percent of the U.S.’ garbage in landfills, it accounts for 70 percent of overall toxic garbage.”  Old TVs, computer monitors and CPUs, mice, keyboards, cell phones, cords, chargers, even fax machines and standard phones can all be recycled.  But if you are planning to attend an event, be sure to check in advance what they recycle.  There are fees (usually $10) for some items like monitors, and some items are accepted at one event but not another.  If you are turning in a computer, be sure to remove the hard drive and crush it before sending it to a recycler in order to protect your data.  Simply erasing it isn’t enough since forensic efforts can recover almost anything from old drives.  This is especially important if you are sending it to a center where they may chose to refurbish your gear rather than breaking it down for raw materials.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs have been historically hard to dispose of properly.  For years the advice was to mix drugs with coffee grinds or kitty litter before tossing in the trash or to flush it down the toilet.  Not only are the fish and other marine animals being affected by our Viagra and Lipitor, but we make it more challenging to have clean water for ourselves.  So now the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is doing the right thing.   The DEA announced the second nationwide prescription drug take-back for April 30Last September, Americans turned in over 242,000 pounds-121 tons-of prescription drugs at nearly 4,100 sites operated by more than 3,000 of the DEA’s state and local law enforcement partners.  This year’s event will take place Saturday, April 30th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time when DEA and its partners will hold the second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day at sites nationwide. The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.  You can find collection sites closest to you by visiting www.dea.gov, clicking on the “Got Drugs?” icon, and then entering your zip code.  

Finally, if you are about to clean out the garage, don’t mistake those half-empty bottles of paint, lawn feed, and lubricants for trash.  Those are hazardous materials (hazmat) that need to be properly disposed of.  If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t pour it down the drain.  Most counties, townships and other municipalities have designated hazmat collection sites that accept household chemicals several times each year.  Usually the events are free, but to ensure they are not collecting industrial waste they are limited to residents, so be prepared to show your ID.  Do a search on your municipality’s website for their annual collection calendar.  It may mean you have to make a separate trip on a future Saturday, but it means a lot to those of us who drink the water.  Thank you. 

Note for PA and NJ residents:  These events are easy to find.  I was able to turn up shredding events for this coming Saturday 4/16 in Malvern, Paoli, and Ambler.  NAPO is also hosting one at the Conshohocken IKEA on April 30.  There are electronics recycling events at EZPCRecycling.com (610-621-4944) in Ambler, PA this weekend as well.  In South Jersey, Goodwill Industries loves to have your old computer gear any day of the week; you can drop it off at any retail or donation site.    Almost every major police agency in my area seems to be participating in the DEA event on April 30, so take-back sites are easy to find.  Hazmat collection sites might be a bit harder to find, but start with your town, township, or county site searching for “household hazardous waste.” In PA and New Jersey, the counties are the collection sites.