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Tips on sorting recyclables effectively 

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Most of us have been recycling for some time now, but the question on everyone’s lips is whether we are sorting out our recyclables in the right way.

There is an art to recycle sorting that we can all learn. But so that we can understand the process, we need to understand why sorting is important.

Importance of Sorting

“Effective sorting leads to effective recycling”, that should be your focus when sorting your trash. The process of sorting is important because it allows you to place each item in the correct waste stream.

If trash is not sorted, it will be treated like every other trash and will find its way to landfills. When this happens, a lot of valuable resources end up being lost.

There is a report that was released which claimed that in 2010 about 2.5 billion tons of waste was produced in the EU. Out of this, 36% was recycled and the rest ended up in landfills or was incinerated.

From the lot that was not recycled, approximately 600 million tons was recyclable but did not make it to the recycling plants. One reason could be that it was not sorted. This led to a loss of potential “secondary raw materials”.

Even after reading the sorting tips given below, you may still have questions. Some helpful trash removers are always ready to give you additional hints on how to prepare your recyclable materials.

Another important reason for proper sorting is that if the country is looking to export its waste materials, the waste is likely to fetch a higher price if it is properly sorted.

So, How Do We Sort?

“An item that is reusable does not mean it is recyclable”. That is a valuable piece of information that should guide us in the sorting process. There is always the temptation to assume that what can be re-used can also be recycled. This is a big misconception.

It is good to note that local refuse collectors have their own specific sorting style depending on their collection method. However, if you are sorting into the MMBC program, the process is the same all round.

Clean & Dry

All your recyclables should be stored when they are clean, empty and dry. Whether your recyclable is a pizza box, a plastic bottle or other food based container, you need to ensure it is clean before placing into recycle bins. This is because food remnants and grease will degrade the recycled material.

Because grease cannot be washed off, the best you can do is tear off the greasy area and recycle the rest. All recyclables should be placed into proper recycle bins and not in plastic bags.


It is a good idea to confirm with your local Environment agency whether they prefer newspapers separated from other paper. Either way, tie old newspapers with twine to keep them together.

You may also need another bin for cardboard boxes. These include both soft and stiff cardboard.

Sorting Plastics

The best way to sort plastics is to divide them into two groups. One pile is for soft plastics such as plastic straws, plastic shopping bags, food storage bags and the like. The next is for hard, rigid plastics like stiff packing containers and bottles.

Soft plastics cannot be recycled as they clog the machine and that is why they are removed. Hard plastic can be recycled with ease. When in doubt whether the item can be recycled, look for the continuous triangle recycle symbol.

Plastic Bottles

When sorting recycling bottles, the bottle and the cap should be separated. This is because the bottle is made of PETE which is also known as clear plastic. Plastic bottles have a recycling code of 1.

The cap, on the other hand is made from polypropylene and it has a recycling code of 5. If the caps are placed with the bottles, they can drastically degrade the quality of the plastic from the recycled bottles.

Combination Items

When we talk of combination items, these are items that are made of more than one material such as bubble wrap envelopes and take-away cups. Both of these are made of plastic and paper which can be recycled separately but not together.

Separate the plastic from the paper and place each one in its proper bin. With aluminium cans, the paper and plastic labels should be removed and the can washed and allowed to dry.

What About Children?

It is important that children become aware of sorting recyclables at an early age. This process of passing on the recycling knowledge to the next generation can be done in a fun way. There are several games that can be used for this such as Recycling Relay where children enjoy separating recyclable, re-usable and disposable materials.