A number of things that you should never compost or recycle

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Remember the good ole days - back when we only had one bin for trash? In retrospect, those days were actually more wasteful than good. We sent things to the landfill that might have nourished our yards, and buried them side-by-side with materials which should have been reclaimed and put back in the production chain.

And a great deal of the stuff that we buried in landfills is now coming back to haunt us as poisonous leachage from the same landfill sites.

Today, most of us have at least two bins: one for compost, and another for recycling. In some countries and areas you may even have as many as four or five different bins. They are great for reducing curbside trash, but not everything is suitable for one bin or the other, or even the four or five that they have in some areas, such as my home one.

In this article I have brought together a number of things that people mistakenly try to compost or recycle. In the case of composting, we chose items generally avoided by experienced compost gurus. For recycling, I have picked things prohibited by most municipal systems, or of limited use to commercial recyclers. Ready? To the bins!

Never Compost

Theoretically, so it is said, you should not compost any bread products and this includes cakes, pasta, and most baked goods. Put any of these items in your compost pile, and you’ve rolled out the welcome mat for unwanted pests. However, if you have a composting bin then those are actually relatively safe. The pests are also attracted by the compost pile in general. Otherwise there is nothing wrong with composting bread and such products.

Cooking oil also should not, theoretically, be going into the compost. It smells like food to animal and insect visitors and it can also upset the compost’s moisture balance.

Diseased plants should never ever go into the compost. Trash or better still burn them, instead. You do not want to transfer fungal or bacterial problems to whatever ends up growing in your finished compost, and this could quite easily happen. So no plants with blight into the compost. Burn then and then add the ash tot he compost. The diseases are then gone.

Heavily coated or printed paper: This is rather a long list, but includes magazines, catalogs, printed cards, and most printed or metallic wrapping paper. Foils do not break down, and you also do not need or want a whole load of exotic printing chemicals in your compost. In addition to that all gloss paper is coated with a thin laminate film which also does not break down. By the way, this kind of paper also is no good to most recyclers.

Human or animal feces: This is way too much of a health risk for it to be safe in any way, shape or form. You do not know what pathogens you may be transferring too the soil in this way. This also includes cat litter. Waste and bedding from non-carnivorous pets should be fine, such as rabbits, chickens and such like.

Meat products are also regarded as a NO, NO as far as composting goes and unless you have an anaerobic digester with heat it is suggested that you do not do meat. Some include in this bones, blood, fish, and animal fats, especially as they see it as yet another pest magnet. Fish, as far as I am concerned is fine, especially if you use a composting bin, and in fact enriches the compost.

Milk products are also something that many people regard as something that should not goo into the compost piles. I am referring here to the composting of milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream. While all those certainly degrade, they are attractive to pests,and in the case of the liquids could upset the moisture balance in your composter.

Rice also is on the “no list” for many a composting guru as it is thought that cooked rice is unusually fertile breeding ground for the kinds of bacteria that one would not want in your compost pile and raw rice attracts vermin.

Sawdust and wood shavings are also regarded as unsafe by some because unless you know the wood it came from was untreated, you do not know what you may be adding to your soil additive, that is to say, your compost.

Weeds os any kind also do not – and here is where I am totally in agreement with all the gurus – do not belong into the compost pile or composter. Those include dandelions (unless you grow them as salad vegetable, as I do), ivy, and kudzu, as they would probably regard your compost heap as a great place to grow, rather than to decompose.

Used personal products such as tampons, diapers, and items soiled in human blood or fluids are a health risk and do not, in any way, shape or form, belong into the compost.

Never Recycle

Aerosol cans: While they are metal, and steel in most cases, since they are spray cans also contain propellants and chemicals, and most municipal systems treat them as hazardous material.

Batteries: These are generally handled separately from both regular trash and curbside recycling.

Brightly dyed paper and any inkjet printed materials: Strong paper dyes work just like that red sock in your white laundry and the print from inkjet printers, whether home or office, is generally not waterproof and hence will contaminate the paper to be recycled.

In the case of inkjet printed paper, shred the stuff and then add to composter. The ink is, in general, safe for composting and also your data is gone securely in a couple of weeks.

Ceramics and pottery: This includes things such as coffee mugs. You may be able to use these in the garden but there is no way of recycling those in any municipal scheme anywhere on this planet.

Diapers: It is not commercially feasible to reclaim the paper and plastic in disposable diapers. Also the contamination in the diapers would be classed as hazardous waste. So, therefore, switch to reusable real diapers instead. Yes, those things that our parents and grandparents used.

Hazardous waste: This includes household chemicals, motor oil, antifreeze, and other liquid coolants. Motor oil is recyclable, but it is usually handled separately from household items. Find out how your community handles hazardous materials before you need those services.

Household glass: Window panes, mirrors, light bulbs, and tableware are impractical to recycle while bottles and jars are usually fine. Do, however, remove all stoppers and also any other contaminants such as metal bands, labels, etc.

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) are recyclable, but contain a small amount of mercury and should never be treated as common household bulbs.There are special facilities for there recycling.

Juice boxes and other coated cardboard drink containers are, as they are a laminate of a variety of materials, are not recyclable. Therefore do not put them in with your recyclables. While some manufacturers have begun producing recyclable containers, which are specially marked, the rest are not suitable for reprocessing.

Medical waste: Syringes, tubing, scalpels, and other biohazards should be disposed as such and should never, under any circumstances, into the recyclables or the normal household trash. They belong in neither but must be specially handled. This also must apply to medicines.

Napkins and paper towels: In most places adding them to the recyclables is being discouraged because of what they may have absorbed. Therefore consider composting.

Pizza boxes: As they generally contain too much grease those too should not get into the recyclables. I would suggest, as most are not heavily printed, to add them to the composter.

Plastic bags and plastic wrap: If possible, clean and reuse the bags. Make sure neither gets into the environment, but neither can be recycled by the facilities.

Plastic-coated boxes, plastic food boxes, or plastic without recycling marks: Dispose safely. If you put your mind to it many of those, I am sure, you can reuse in one way or other yourself. I do with majority of them. In fact, I take them home from work even.

Plastic screw-on tops: Dispose separately from recyclable plastic bottles. Remember that smaller caps are a choking hazard.

Styrofoam: In generally is non-recyclable and hence can only go into the “normal” trash and in the end into the landfill. Consider not using any Styrofoam, aka polystyrene.

Tyvek shipping envelopes: These are the kind used by the post office and overnight delivery companies. They are NOT paper and hence are not recyclable.

Your municipal recycling system gets the final say as to what belongs in your bin and your recycling bins. Some areas will restrict more items that those that have been listed here, while other may be happy to deal with one or the other item listen and again others have special programs for dealing with problematic materials. In most cases, municipal systems are happy to provide guidelines, even written ones should you so desire. All you have to do is contact them and ask

© 2009