Recycling has been mandatory in New Jersey since 1987 but questions continually arise about recycling.  The Union County Bureau of Recycling wants residents to Recycle Right so here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Q:  What is ACCEPTABLE in my curbside bin?

A: Recycle all empty plastic bottles coded #1 & # 2, aluminum & steel (tin) cans, glass bottles and jars, paper, newspaper, magazines & junk mail as well as cartons, cardboard and chipboard.

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Q:  What is NOT ACCEPTABLE in my recycling bin?

A: In addition to plastic bags and Styrofoam, recycling bins should be free of food waste/liquids (containers should be rinsed, empty & dry), no dishware, glass, or mirrors, no paper towels, napkins, cups or plates, no straws or plastic ware, video tapes, pots & pans, bulbs, batteries, hoses and no syringes. 

Q:  How are the recyclables collected curbside separated for recycling?

A:  Once the recyclable materials are collected, they are then sent to a recycling center that uses both mechanization and hand-sorting to separate the different recyclable materials into their constituent parts.  The separated recyclable materials are then further processed to make them more market-ready.  For example, paper, aluminum cans and corrugated cardboard will be baled, while glass will be crushed.  Click here for a tour of Burlington County’s facility.

Q:  If an item is not on my acceptable items list, or I am not sure if the item could be recycled, should I put it in my recycling bin anyway?

A: No! Putting the wrong recyclables into your recycling bin will contaminate the recycling stream and diminish the value of the other good materials.  Items move quickly on the belts through the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Machines and people cannot quickly sort all of the unacceptable items, which creates contamination and negatively affects the economics of recycling.  It’s important to recycle, but it’s just as important to recycle right.

Q:  Why can't plastic bags go in the curbside recycling bin?

A: Plastic grocery bags are not compatible with the machines that sort recyclables at the processing facility.  However, many grocery and retail stores will collect plastic bags for recycling.  Visit https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/ for a location near you. 

Q:  What do those numbers on the bottom of plastic products mean?  Which ones can I recycle?

A: The only plastics acceptable in all curbside recycling programs in Union County are bottles and jugs coded with #1 or #2 on the bottom (milk jugs, orange juice bottles, water/soda bottles, detergent bottles, etc.). Some municipalities collect #5 plastics as well (yogurt, sour cream and margarine containers).  The other plastic containers currently have no end market so they are not able to be recycled locally.

The numbers found on the bottom of plastic products are resin identification codes that were established by the plastics industry to help consumers identify the plastic type of various containers and products.  It was hoped that this code would make it easier for consumers to identify whether and how to recycle various plastic products and packaging.  The resin identification codes are as follows:

01 PET   - Polyethylene terephthalate (examples: soda and water bottles)
02 HDPE - High-density polyethylene (examples: milk bottles and detergent bottles)
03 PVC - Polyvinyl chloride (examples: juice bottles, cling films, and piping)
04 LDPE - Low-density polyethylene (examples: squeezable bottles and frozen food bags)
05 PP – Polypropylene (examples: yogurt/sour cream containers, margarine tubs)
06 PS – Polystyrene (examples: egg cartons, packing peanuts, Styrofoam)
07 O (Other) – Often Polycarbonate or Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)

Q: Why do municipal recycling collection programs vary throughout Union County?

A: While most county recycling plans require similar materials to be recycled, there are differences from municipality to municipality based upon various factors, such as who their recycling end market is and what optical sorters the end markets have on their equipment. Unlike some counties in NJ, Union County does not have a county-wide collection program; each town is responsible for their own curbside contract which allows for variations in collection programs. 

Q:  Should I leave the lids on or off of plastic bottles?

A: Take the lids off and throw them away.  This helps ensure that bottles are empty of all liquids.

Q:  What about Styrofoam; recycling symbol #6?

A: Styrofoam CANNOT be added to your curbside recycling.  However, Union County is home to Foampak a manufacturer of Styrofoam products who will accept clean, dry Styrofoam for recycling.  Visit www.ucnj.org/recycling for information on drop off locations.

Q:  What about my pizza boxes?

A: Pizza boxes are recyclable, food is not. If the bottom of the box is covered in grease and cheese you can tear off the top of the box and recycle it or just throw the entire box away. 

Q:  What is contamination and why is it bad for recycling?

A: Contamination is any material that is not recyclable that residents put in the recycling bin. This could include aluminum foil, batteries, non-recyclable plastics and plastic bags.  Contamination not only increases the cost of recycling but some materials can pose a fire danger (batteries) or damage the equipment at the materials recovery facility requiring the whole plant to be shut down while plastic bags and other tanglers are cut off equipment.

Q:  How clean does a container need to be before recycling it?

A: Containers should be rinsed and empty. They do not need to be thoroughly washed. Sticky items such as peanut butter jars just need to be wiped out to be “clean enough”.

Q: Can I put shredded paper in my recycling bin?

A:  No.  Shredded office paper cannot be effectively sorted by recyclable materials processing facilities.  Shredded paper cannot be brought to a shredding event as pre-shredded paper causes the machines to jam.  Confidential papers can be brought to any of Union County’s Mobile Paper Shredding events (www.ucnj.org/recycling).   Shredded paper can be thrown in the regular garbage. 

Q:  What is the difference between dual stream and single stream recycling?

A: Dual stream recycling and single stream recycling are both recyclable materials collection systems, but with one important difference.  In dual stream programs, bottles, cans and other containers are collected in one recycling bucket, while paper grades are collected separately in another recycling bucket.  This allows towns to market these items separately. 

In single stream programs, bottles, cans, and other containers, as well as paper grades are all collected together in one recycling bucket.  Single stream systems are more prevalent because they are typically found to be more convenient but they often result in higher contamination rates. 

Q:  How can I properly dispose of latex paint?

A: Latex paint (acrylic/enamel/wall paint) is considered non-hazardous and can be thrown away once dry.  Garbage collectors cannot pick up liquids so remove the lid and let dry. To speed up this process, add kitty litter or paint hardener. Once dry, set out with your regular trash.  Visit www.ucnj.org/recycling  for more information.