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Ten Questions You Might Have About Recycling in Arlington, Answered

You probably know that glass is no longer recycled in Arlington, but do you know that recycling placed in garbage bags is automatically thrown away at the processing plant?

We sent ten questions people might have about what can and cannot get recycled to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services earlier this month. The answers from the experts at the county’s Solid Waste Bureau are below.

For more information on Arlington’s curbside waste collection service, see county’s trash and recycling page. If you have any other questions, let us know in the comments.

1. If you place your junk mail directly into the recycling, will that be recycled?

Your junk mail (e.g., catalogues, letters, envelopes) is what is known as “mixed paper” and will be recycled if placed in your recycling cart. One way to reduce junk mail intake:

2. Do you need to remove the plastic tape from cardboard boxes in order for it to be recycled?

You do not need to remove the plastic tape from cardboard boxes prior to placing them in your bin. However, packing slips and their plastic envelopes should be removed. Also, please flatten all cardboard boxes and try to fit them all into the blue curbside recycling cart. If you have many such boxes, you can take them to the Quincy or Trade Centers recycling drop-off sites and place them inside the very large bins.

3. If there’s some food left on a container after rinsing it, can it still be recycled?

All materials should be clean, dry and empty before being placed in the recycling bin. Reducing food contamination in the recycling stream helps ensure that materials can be recycled into new products. Although you don’t need to scrub or run food containers through the dishwasher before placing them in the recycling cart, all food debris should be removed. A simple wash or wipe with a paper towel is usually sufficient.

4. Can soiled cardboard, like pizza boxes, be recycled?

Very soiled cardboard including pizza boxes cannot be recycled and should be placed in the trash. Relatively clean pizza boxes can be recycled.

5. Can you put recyclables right in the cart? Or should they all be bagged?

Recyclables should ALWAYS be placed loose and directly into the cart. They should NEVER be bagged. Recyclables in bags will be disposed of as trash at the recycling sorting facility. Even empty, plastic bags should never go in the recycling cart.

6. Do boxes really need to be crushed? Doesn’t the truck have a crusher built in?

Boxes should be flattened prior to placing them out for collection. Placing flattened boxes in the blue curbside cart helps even more. Although the truck does have a compactor, boxes that are flattened prior to being placed in the truck compact more efficiently. When boxes are not flattened, they do not compact as well in the truck. This can cause the truck to fill up and force the crew to leave the route before completing service. With the dramatic increase in home deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of cardboard boxes has led to an increase in recycling routes not being completed on their scheduled day. By flattening boxes, you can do your part to help preserve recycling collection in Arlington. 

Ways to help keep trash/recycling on track during Covid-19 times:

7. Are there any items people commonly think cannot be recycled, but which in fact can?

Paperboard, used to make cereal boxes, is recyclable.

8. Are there any items people commonly think CAN be recycled, but which in fact cannot?

Plastic bags and film (including flexible packaging and shipping envelopes) are not recyclable in the curbside collection program. However, plastic bags and films can be dropped off at many local grocery stores for recycling. 

9. Can used paper towels be recycled?

No, paper towels are no recyclable. And don’t flush them and used facial tissues down the toilet. Because of the fiber type, they can clog pipes.

Bookmark and check online to find out “Where Does It Go?” for hundreds of different items:

10. When is organic collection coming back? Anytime soon?

We do not have a firm date on when curbside yard waste collection will resume. The County’s trash, recycling and yard waste collection contractor has experienced a significant decrease in staff availability due to COVID-19. This has forced the County to prioritize services and temporarily suspend organics collection to preserve full trash and recycling collection. Unfortunately, the communities where many of the contractor’s personnel live continue to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19 and they continue to lose workers to COVID-19-related causes. 

We understand that this has caused challenges for many Arlington residents in an already difficult time. The County has tried to ameliorate some of this strain by establishing two yard waste drop-off locations for residents: the Earth Products Yard at the Trades Center, 4300 29th St. S. in Shirlington; and the mulch pick-up site at North 26th Street and Yorktown Boulevard. However, we know this is not a perfect solution. We are in frequent communication with our contractor about staffing levels and are working to resume curbside organics collection as soon as circumstances permit.

The County still continues to offer, through scheduling only, curbside pickup of brush and limbs:

During a pandemic, when residential trash volumes are up, crews are working harder than ever to keep up with their collection rounds. That has led to occasional delays but also notes of appreciation to residents, as seen below.

Flickr pool photo by Aaron Webb

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