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South Hills Recycling 101

You care about the environment. You bring your own bags to the store, support the local farmers market, and install the energy efficient light bulbs. You recycle what you can, but why is it so hard?! Recycling rules are different everywhere and they seem to change every few years. In this post, we’ll tackle what can be recycled curbside in Mt. Lebanon.


When recycling first started in my hometown, my family had to take our recycling to a small borough building a few miles away. Volunteers would take our containers full of plastics, metals, and paper from the trunk, and then sort our items into their proper bin. Correct sorting was essential to running a cost effective program. The convenience of curbside recycling was still a few years out for our rural community. Here, it's so much easier, with the most common recyclables being part of Mt. Lebanon's waste management program, with no sorting or driving necessary.


Recycling allows for materials to be reused, extending their useful life, instead of being buried or incinerated. To ensure our natural resources are being used effectively, we want to recycle when we can. Did you know that:

  • It requires 95% less energy and water to recycle a can than it does to create a new can from virgin materials.

  • Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to power a TV for three hours (ex. Avengers: Endgame without the post-credit scene).

  • Five recycled plastic bottles make enough fiberfill to stuff a ski jacket.


To make the most of our curbside recycling program and get the energy saving benefits identified above, only the allowed material types should be placed in the bin. Throwing in items that aren’t accepted (also known as wish-cycling) can lead to the contamination of large loads of recyclables (up to a few hundred pounds). At this point, the only disposal method for a contaminated load is the landfill. Not only is this negating the environmental benefits of recycling, but it also ends up costing our local government both time and money.


Here in Mt. Lebanon, our municipality's garbage and recycling is removed by Waste Management. The contract was awarded via a joint bid through the South Hills Council of Governments (so if you are here from a neighboring community, welcome! This information also applies to you.)


 

Here's our current list of acceptable items for curbside recycling.


  • Plastics #1 and #2 (The most popular plastic for food and household use)

  • Steel and Aluminum

  • Cardboard and Paperboard (i.e. cereal boxes)

  • Paper, including magazine, newspapers, and junk mail


And here are some additional guidelines:


  • The item must be clean with no food or drink residue. This means no pizza boxes, due to the grease.

  • Absolutely no plastic bags! They can get caught in the machinery, forcing the sorting facility to shut down. To keep recycling as cost effective as possible, store your bags separately and recycle at participating locations, which you can find here. Most Giant Eagles, Lowe's, and Walmarts will have a bin outside.

  • For plastics, only 1 & 2 are accepted. There are many items out there with chasing arrows, but they can't be recycled curbside. Takeout containers are probably the most common mistake. Stay tuned for more information on hard to recycle items.

  • Black plastics also should not be put in curbside4. The most likely reasons are the financial viability of dyed plastics is low since it's difficult to use in other ways. Additionally, plastics are sorted using infrared light, which has difficulty identifying black.

  • Glass is no longer allowed. It can easily shatter, which can contaminate the load. Glass is actually infinitely recyclable and should continue to be recycled, despite the extra effort.

  • Caps can only be recycled if they are screwed back onto the bottle.

  • Receipts aren't actually paper. They contain BPA, which allows heat to be used to print the receipt instead of ink. The best place for them is in the trash.

  • Coffee cups and milk cartons have a wax coating. They should also be placed in the trash.

 

Why is it important to get this right? Throwing non-recyclables in the bin contaminates the entire load, which costs Mt. Lebanon $150 per load, up to $250,000 per year. To avoid these fees, a discerning eye is needed.


A good first step is to print this label (Or pick one up at the Library or Municipality Office) and place it in a visible location near where you store your recycling collection bin. Now, whenever there is confusion, the guide is right there for quick reference. Soon, proper recycling will become second nature. And if you do run into an item that you aren’t sure about, remember that it’s better to throw it out.


Hopefully, this post has addressed some of your most common recycling questions. We are all responsible for ensuring that our limited natural resources are used wisely and recycling plays an important role. Next time you are standing over your recycling bin, I hope you now feel confident that you are making the right decisions.


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