Cartons Are Not Recyclable

Have you been tossing milk and juice cartons in with your other recycling? They’re actually not recyclable here. Because they are made out of both paper and plastic, and sometimes aluminum as well, they are more difficult to process. Facilities that do this kind of work are still limited.

What are cartons? Cartons are paperboard lined with a thin layer of plastic, such as juice boxes or Tetrapak.

Cartons include containers for: Milk, milk alternatives, juice, broth, soup, cream, egg substitutes, wine and anything marked as Tetrapak.

Are You Recycling or Wish Cycling?

When you toss something in the recycling, do you know that it’s recyclable, or are you just hoping that it is?

Putting something in the recycling because you hope it’s recyclable is called wish cycling, and it’s actually bad for recycling.

Here are four things that can happen when you wish cycle instead of recycle:

  1. It takes longer to sort recycling, which costs recycling programs more money.
  2. Items that are recyclable, but not through your curbside pickup — such as electronics — never get recycled. Instead, they end up in landfills.
  3. Other items that are recyclable, but not through your curbside pickup — such as plastic bags and extension cords — jam and damage sorting machinery.
  4. Recycling is most economical when people recycle only clean materials that can be sold to make new goods. So when we recycle only what is accepted, it keeps down the cost to run our recycling program.

Also, just because an item is recyclable somewhere does not mean it belongs in your recycling cart in Stockton. Not every item can be recycled curbside in every community.

Why is that? Different communities have access to different recycling facilities, and each facility is capable of processing a different set of items. Most facilities, for example, process paper, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans, glass bottles, and plastic #1. Additional accepted items vary by location.

Here in Stockton, we accept a wide range of materials, but not everything can go into your recycling cart. Use our comprehensive Recycling Guide for specific steps on how to recycle any item. Oftentimes, items that can’t go into your recycling cart can still be recycled or reused — it just takes one extra step on your part to find out how.

And remember: When in doubt, throw it out. Don’t throw it in your recycling.

Don’t Flush “Flushable” Wipes

Flushable wipes? It turns out they’re not so flushable. Formerly used only for babies, disposable wipes have started to clog pipes and other sewer machinery all over the world. These clogs are no joke. They cost New York City an extra $10 million a year. This led The Guardian to term them “the biggest villain of 2015.”

What can you do? Don’t buy disposable — use reusable cloths or the standard soap-and-water method of washing instead. Wipes are not a reliable disinfectant, anyway. Or, if you must buy them, don’t trust their labeling: simply toss them in the trash. Still skeptical? Check out this video from Consumer Reports — their researchers gave up on waiting for the wipes to break down as promised:

Recycle Those Electronics: They’re Valuable and Toxic

Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, is any electrically powered product that is nearing the end of its useful life — think of items that have wires, batteries, screens or computer chips. E-waste is a growing source of waste worldwide, mostly due to computers and smartphones. In 2017, it’s predicted that up to 50 million tons of e-waste will be discarded — a 20 percent increase from 2015.

Not only is e-waste valuable because it contains metals such as gold, silver, copper and palladium, but it’s toxic, too. It contains harmful materials such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and flame retardants. These materials can leach out of landfills and accumulate in water, soil and food. This is why e-waste cannot simply be tossed in the trash — it needs to be safely processed and disposed of in special facilities.

When you sell, donate or recycle your e-waste, you accomplish two major environmental feats. First, you prevent toxic chemicals from polluting the environment. Second, by keeping existing materials in use, you reduce the amount of raw materials that need to be extracted to produce new electronics. Mineral extraction comes with its own set of environmental impacts, from high water and energy use to pollution from the refining process.

Here are some tips to consider before selling, donating or recycling your e-waste:

  • Have your device repaired, or upgrade the hardware or software on your computer to extend its life instead of jumping to buy a brand new product.
  • Is your device is still usable or repairable? Don’t recycle it — sell it or donate it, instead. It’s more eco-friendly for items to be reused than recycled.
  • Delete all personal information from your electronics prior to parting with them.
  • Remove batteries from your devices and recycle them separately.

Find out where you can safely dispose of your e-waste here.

“Clothing Spill” Video Demonstrates Textile Waste

The company Value Village, a secondhand clothing retailer, collaborated with the creative firm Electric Coffin to create what they call a “clothing spill” on a Seattle public beach. Using 3,000 pounds of clothing in the installation, they demonstrate the overconsumption of clothing and how little of it is reused or recycled. North Americans send far too many clothes and other textiles to the landfill — 80 pounds per person, per year — and the price we’re paying is greater than we realize. Check out the installation in the video below.

Liquids Are a Mess for Recycling

We’ve all seen people toss half-full bottles into recycling bins, but is this really OK? No. Liquids are bad for the recycling process because most recyclables end up mixing together. When liquids come into contact with paper products, the paper fibers become damaged and impossible to reuse. Liquids also make recycling loads heavier and more expensive to haul, and they create big messes when they spill on the sorting line.

So what should you do? Dump out any liquids from your containers. If they’re really wet, try to let them dry before adding them to your other recyclables. That way, any paper they come into contact with will stay dry, too.

Compostable Plastics Are Compostable — But Not at Home

This summer, as you sip on iced coffee and picnic in the great outdoors, check your plastic cups, plates and utensils for the terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” or the BPI logo. Don’t toss these bioplastics in the recycling — biodegradable and compostable plastics aren’t recyclable.

Don’t try to compost these items at home, either. Bioplastics are designed to withstand heat and liquid, so they won’t break down fully. For example, think of the last time you used a compostable plastic spoon to eat hot soup — these plastics need an industrial composter to be broken down appropriately. Find an industrial composter here. If you can’t compost them industrially, toss them in the trash.

And remember: Reusable items are always more eco-friendly than recyclable or compostable ones, so reduce your use of disposable products whenever possible. Investing in a travel mug and travel utensils can prevent a lot of unnecessary consumption.

How to Recycle Charcoal

It’s grilling and barbecuing season, and even those of us with gas grills at home tend to use charcoal for outings at the beach or park. But what do we do with charcoal ashes or leftover charcoal?

If you want to reuse charcoal for grilling, follow these steps: 1. Rake cold, used charcoal to dislodge extra ash. 2. Empty the ash from the grill. 3. Add about half the amount of new charcoal that you would normally use to start the grill. 4. Light the charcoal and proceed as usual. Note: If you follow this method, you may smell food drippings burning off the old charcoal. You can wait 5-10 minutes for this process to finish before adding food to the grill.

If your used or unused charcoal contains additives, you cannot reuse it for other purposes. The chemicals may include borax or lighter fluid, which are potentially dangerous. Allow ashes to cool for 48 hours, or pour water onto them and stir thoroughly to speed up the process. After they have fully cooled, either wrap the ashes in aluminum foil or place them in a small metal container, such as a coffee can, and dispose of them in an outdoor trash bin. Do not place them near anything that could catch fire.

If your used charcoal is additive-free, you can use it to fertilize plants. It is alkaline and contains the nutrient potash. Avoid using it with plants that require more acidity (e.g., hydrangeas and azaleas), as well as new seedlings.

If your unused charcoal is additive-free, you can use it to neutralize odors, prevent metal from rusting, or balance nutrients in potted plants, garden beds and compost piles. For more inspiration, check out this list of ideas from This Old House.

3 Easy Ways to Save Energy When Doing Your Laundry

1. Wash with cold water instead of hot water. According to The Christian Science Monitor, each load of laundry that uses hot water instead of cold water uses an additional 4.5 kilowatt-hours and costs about $0.64 more. And while hot water is more likely to kill bacteria, it’s also harsher on fabric, causing shrinking, fading and wrinkling. Consider using warm water instead of hot water when you need to disinfect your laundry, and always opt to rinse on cold. Not only will you save energy, you’ll extend the life of your clothing, too.

2. Line dry your clothes instead of tossing them in the dryer. This will also save on energy, and as much as $25 per month on your electric bill. Now that it’s summertime, you can line dry clothes outside in the sun. Or, pick up an inexpensive folding drying rack for $30 or less to dry clothes year round. Hate when your clothes get too stiff? Tumble dry them for 10 minutes when they’re damp or dry to soften them up.

3. Wash your clothes less often. Americans tend to be obsessed with cleanliness, but wearing something once doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dirty. Give your clothes the sniff test. If they pass, you can hang them and spray them with a little water to remove any light wrinkles from wear.

For even more ideas on how to save energy on laundry, check out this list by Apartment Therapy.

How Recyclable Is It?

Not all materials are equally recyclable. Why is that? Some materials can be recycled infinitely, turned over and over again into the same products. Others cannot be turned into the same product without losing quality, so instead they are recycled into products that are less valuable or can no longer be recycled. This is also known as downcycling. Curious to find out which materials are more recyclable? Let’s see what a few common life cycles look like:


Aluminum recycling is very popular, and that’s for a couple of reasons. One is that producing aluminum by mining bauxite is an energy-intensive, pollution-heavy process. The other is that aluminum can be reused infinitely. Aluminum alloys sometimes need to be downcycled into alloys of lesser value, but the lesser value alloys are still reusable and recyclable. According to one source, nearly 75 percent of aluminum ever made is currently in use. On average, aluminum cans are made with 68 percent recycled content.


The numbers for steel get even higher than the numbers for aluminum, because steel can also be recycled infinitely, but without any loss of strength. The steel cans you purchase food in are 100 percent recyclable, and between 80 and 90 percent of all produced steel is still in use today. All new steel products contain at least some recycled steel. Overall, steel is the material we recycle most.


Glass can be infinitely recycled, too, but only if it is sorted correctly. This is because different types of glass have different melting points. For instance, Pyrex dishware, auto glass and windows can’t be thrown in curbside recycling along with your glass jars and bottles. Even glass that can be recycled curbside has to be sorted by color before it is processed. Ideally, clear glass jars and bottles are turned back into clear glass containers, and glass bottles of other colors are turned back into glass bottles of those colors. When mistakes happen during glass sorting, the glass is downcycled into other items, such as tiles and road surfaces, which are less often recyclable.


Paper recycling has been popular for a long time. Everyone knows that you can save trees by recycling paper. But can you recycle paper infinitely? No. Paper is downcycled into paper products of less value or quality. This is because as paper is processed, its fibers shorten. Shorter fibers are not as strong or as durable, and often require other longer fibers to be mixed with them in order to be functional. For example, high grade white office paper can be recycled into high grade recycled paper. But mixed quality papers recycled together might only be able to make low-quality paper, such as newsprint. The shortest paper fibers are often turned into end-of-use products like napkins, paper towels or bathroom tissue. Paper can only be recycled about five to seven times before its fibers become unusable.

Plastic #1 (PET)

Most plastics can only be recycled once, so they are generally downcycled into unrecyclable products. Plastic #1, or PET, is most often downcycled into polyester fiber to make clothing, carpet and fiberfill. Polyester products can no longer be recycled as plastic. PET can be recycled back into plastic bottles and other food and non-food containers, but this is less common. When PET is recycled back into plastic without being mixed with virgin PET, it can be recycled only about three times before its quality is visibly decreased. PET has to be combined in equal parts with virgin PET in order to stay usable.

Remember: Because so much recycling is actually downcycling, it’s all the more important to limit your consumption of disposables in the first place. Reduce and reuse first — recycle as a last resort.