The 2017 statistics are in, and they are not wonderful. Residents of Colorado are recycling only 12% of what is possible. To put this into perspective, the average recycling rate across the U.S. is 34%.

For those who would recycle but are unsure what qualifies as a recyclable item, Denver Recycling will pick up:

Aluminum Cans, Foil, Pie Plates
Corrugated Cardboard and Cartons
Glass Bottles and Jars
Newspapers, Magazines, Catalogs, Phone Books
Office Paper, Junk Mail
Paper Bags, Paperboard Boxes
Plastic Containers
Steel and Aerosol Cans

Denver Recycling asks that customers please clean off food containers and other items as much as possible. Also, please break down and flatten corrugated cardboard, but do NOT flatten cartons. The Denver Recycling website contains a complete list of ways to prepare household items for recycling.

What Does it Mean to “Recycle”?

Now that you have learned what items can be recycled and have committed to recycling what you can, did you ever wonder what it means to “recycle” that unwanted trash? What happens to the waste products once they leave your house?

The beginning of the recycling process may differ, depending on whether the trash collector offers multi-stream, dual-stream, or single-stream service to their customers. With the multi-stream service, customers sort each type of material into separate containers. In dual-stream, customers separate paper only from other recyclables (plastic, glass, and metal). Under single-stream, customers toss all their recyclables into one container for pick-up.

Single-stream recycling is the most convenient system for customers, which is why trash collectors offer this service most often. On pick-up day, one truck hauls away all of the trash and takes it to a recycling facility. At the recycling facility, the truck dumps its entire load on a “tip” floor. Employees of the facility then check through the trash for non-recyclable items before loading everything else onto a conveyor belt to be automatically sorted.

Cardboard is the first material to be lifted off the belt, followed by newspapers and other types of paper. Next, magnets glom onto steel and other materials that contain iron and remove them to a separate pile. Glass bottles are blasted with air to clean off dirt and other debris, then are smashed into little pieces. Optical scanners sort non-glass bottles and cans into their own piles. Each separate type of recyclable is baled and subjected to a quality check, then shipped to recyclers down the line to be re-shaped into new products.

What is Made From Recycled Materials?

Steel is melted down in furnaces and reshaped into flat stock, that can be made into items like bicycle frames. Chunks of glass are melted and formed into new glass bottles and other products. Cardboard cartons and other paper products are shredded, then pressed back into another useful shape, like ceiling tiles or new cartons. Aluminum is also shredded up, then melted and reshaped into a coil. Later, the coil can be cut into new cans and lids.

High density polyethylene (HDPE), such as is found in some shampoo bottles and other plastic containers, is ground up, then melted and reshaped into pellets. The pellets are then re-melted and air is forced inside them to puff them up into new bottles and containers, using the same sort of process that is used in blowing glass.

Help the Recycling Effort by Shopping

So, you have cleaned and stowed everything from your house that can be recycled. What more can you do to help the recycling effort in Denver? Go shopping. It might seem strange that you can make a difference in the ongoing recycling effort by buying something, but it’s true. If you shop at Amazon (and who doesn’t?) make your purchase through AmazonSmile. Choose the Colorado Association for Recycling as your charity and AmazonSmile will donate to them on your behalf.

America Recycles Day

Maybe you’re not ready to make the leap into recycling yet. Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to start things on a certain date. You’re in luck! November 15 is America Recycles Day. Visit their website, check it out. You can pledge to recycle one or more types of materials on your own, or you can take the plunge, gather a group of friends and host your own event.