There are a number of sources to consult when determining which materials are acceptable in your school’s recycling program and how to prepare them properly.
A list of commonly acceptable materials includes:
- Corrugated cardboard boxes,
- Other paperboard/chipboard boxes, such as facial tissue and cookie boxes,
- Paper such as copy paper and other standard types of paper such as construction paper, mail, newspaper, magazines, file folders, paperback books,
- Containers such as plastic containers #1 and #2 (see explanation below), aluminum cans, steel cans, glass bottles and jars.
Be aware that each county in New Jersey has a list of materials that must be source separated and recycled by law. Additionally, some municipalities and recycling facilities may accept additional materials. There may also be some specific ways that materials need to be prepared for each facility. Examples of some less commonly acceptable materials in school recycling programs are types of plastic containers other than those mentioned above, milk cartons, hardcover books, pizza boxes and shredded paper. You will have to determine, in concert with the facility where the school’s recyclables are delivered, whether any of these materials are acceptable. Of note, most facilities will not accept materials in plastic bags.
Review this example of a list of standard recyclable materials found in schools that was prepared for Morris County schools by the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority (MCMUA). You will need to create a list like this for your school.
Once your list is finalized, it will become the basis of all of your educational and promotional materials and messages disseminated school wide. This is an important step, so allow time to be sure it is accurate.
These are some steps to determine those targeted/acceptable materials for your school:
Contact your municipal and/or county recycling coordinator for help. Your local recycling coordinators are very knowledgeable about the types of materials you should be targeting/accepting in your recycling program and are familiar with the available recycling haulers and facilities. They will often be able to provide helpful educational and promotional materials or assistance to target the specific materials in your recycling program. They will also be able to help provide the next two items in the list.
Obtain a copy of the “mandated” materials list for your county and municipality.
By law, each of New Jersey’s 21 counties maintains a list of the mandated or designated materials. By law, these materials must be kept separate from trash at the point where they are generated; this is called “source separation.” Stated another way, it is illegal to mix mandated recyclable materials with trash. Therefore, a collection system that does not keep mandated recyclable materials separate from trash at the school is not in compliance with the law. If a hauling company representative tells you it will separate the recyclable materials from the trash at their facility, that practice is violating the law in New Jersey. Your school needs to keep all mandated recyclable materials separate from trash.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) maintains a list of mandated materials by county. Also, you can visit your county’s recycling website to see if that office has a better form of the list that may include specific definitions for each material category. Mandated materials are included in each County Recycling Plan. Print the list for your county. You will need to refer to it. Additional materials that may be mandated by your municipality are included in the municipal recycling ordinance. Contact the municipal recycling coordinator to determine if they have mandated other recyclable materials than those mandated by the county. Of note, schools are considered part of the commercial sector.
Your municipality may use RecycleCoach, an application with a “What Goes Where” search tool. You can search for your municipality on the RecycleCoach website. From there, you can either download the app or visit your municipality’s recycling page to use the “What Goes Where” search tool. Some municipalities in Atlantic County for example, use a tool called Waste Wizard powered by ReCollect. Look for similar tools on your municipality’s website for help to determine what to do with questionable materials.
Please be aware that recent trends regarding acceptable types of plastics for recycling have restricted the types of plastics accepted in an effort to keep unacceptable material out of the stream. Plastic containers are coded #1 – #7. This coding system is explained in the side box. In the past, many recycling facilities advertised the acceptance of all numbers #1 – #7. Since 2017, however, this has proven to be unsustainable because facilities that separate and recycle all those types of plastic received too many other unacceptable materials and some of those plastics simply were not able to sorted and recycled.
Further, as a cautionary note, #6 PS, which stands for polystyrene (often called Styrofoam®), the material used quite often for disposable cafeteria food trays, has extremely limited opportunities for recycling, especially after coming into contact with food. It is most common that materials labeled #6 PS must be put into the trash.
Additionally, find out if milk cartons/juice boxes are acceptable in your recycling program. Milk cartons/juice boxes are usually not a mandated material. Their acceptability in the recycling stream will depend on whether or not the facility receiving your school’s material will accept them. If they are acceptable and you do decide to include them in with other recyclables, you may need to create a separate emptying/collection area in the cafeteria for students to empty the liquids. This video explains a milk carton collection program at a school in Sussex County.
It is also recommended that you determine items in the waste stream, in abundance, that are easily mistaken as being acceptable for recycling. For example, snack wrappers from chips, juice pouches and small plastic cups from fruit or jello often are thought to be acceptable for recycling, however it is likely that they are not acceptable at your recycling facility. The snack wrappers and juice pouches are made from materials that are not acceptable. Although the small fruit or jello cups are plastic, they often do not have a recycling code on them. Plastics with no code should be discarded in the trash. The size of the containers may also be an issue. In Morris County, for example, the sorting system is unable to properly sort and capture plastic items that are about 6 ounces or smaller. It is important to address these unacceptable items in your educational materials. Below are three documents created by the MCMUA for schools in Morris County showing some of these items which are commonly mistaken to be acceptable as recyclable materials.